This is for the South Park Big Bang 2012. This is my first big bang, and it's been really fun to be a part of this experience. I started this fic a long, long time ago, but if it hadn't been for this big bang, I probably would never have finished it. I'd like to thank shimshake, my first-time beta reader, for all of her work even though South Park isn't her fandom. I'd also like to thank alpha_hydra for understanding me better than I do and pushing me to do this big bang, as well as all her thoughts and ideas on characterization and plot. Last, I'd like to thank adrya00, my biggest fan, supporter, and cheerleader, and being the one to get me to start writing this monster of a fic in the first place. It's been great everyone! I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!


Staring up at the custom-colored bright red two-story cookie-cutter house, Stan let out a sigh and leant back against his dad's Toyota, loosely clutching the box his mom had shoved into his arms. Movers were helping his parents unload the large van containing the whole of the Marshes earthly possessions, and Stan was pretty sure he was supposed to be heaving boxes around too, but he was too caught up staring at the house before him.

South Park never changed. It was still the little white trash American town it had been when Stan's dad had received the offer up in Long Beach three years ago, prompting their whole family's upheaval for a job that ended up falling through anyway. All of which seemed like a lifetime ago when it had only been three short years. Three measly short years. And still South Park was the same as ever.

The houses were still the same overused plan, all painted in outrageous colors, the proof which stood in front of Stan as he vaguely registered his mom nagging at him to start moving. The ground was covered with a blanket of snow several inches deep, and the chill in the air had already made itself permanently etched in his bones.

Stan wiggled the fingers of his left hand in his soft black wool gloves, working the feeling back into his hand where it had grown numb and cold from gripping the box in his arms. He opened his mouth and exhaled, letting his breath fog up in front of him. Licking his lips, he tried again and got the same result. It made something in his chest flutter briefly before moving down his torso to settle in his stomach, the familiar roll moving in an uneasy pattern.

A certain restlessness settled over him, causing him to grip the edges of the box tightly. He had the feeling he should be doing something, but wrote it off, as he was wont to do whenever the notion crossed his mind. He had gotten used to not paying attention to what felt right.

Stan looked up at the house once more, gazing at the window that would most likely end up being connected to his room. It was ridiculous really, how easily predictable South Park was. Even when the inconceivable was happening. But Stan was abruptly ripped from his thoughts when his mom came to physically demand that he do some work. A good thing. As much as work could be counted as something good.

Stan brushed his long black bangs to the side of his face, sighing when they fell right back into place in front of his dark blue eyes. He brushed past his mom carrying his load into the house, grumbling ineffectually so that she would know that while he was following her orders, he was very unhappy about it. All he could worry about was how his bangs better not smudge his eyeliner as he was resolved to a day of heavy lifting and moving to settle into their new house in the same old South Park with its same old houses with their same old structures surrounded by its same old snow.

Stan managed to get the least amount of work done while looking like he did a lot more and actually doing a great deal of work in the process, an art which he had perfected over the last few years since he had been away from South Park. It was surprisingly a lot easier to deceive his parents that way, especially in an environment where his friends didn't constantly tangle up and distort his plans. Not that he had made many close friends while he had been away, but the few that he had weren't anything special. In fact, they had pointedly told him how they didn't plan to keep in contact when he moved back to South Park, the assholes. Stan already missed them. In that not missing them kind of way.

Still, Stan felt a certain sense of accomplishment at the state of his room, his computer already loaded up and running, his TV, PS2, and Xbox 360 resting on top of the small bookcase in his closet holding his DVD collection, games, comics, and the few books he had happened to read and enjoy, and his sleeping bag opened over the mattress on his bed. Tomorrow, he'd dig out his eyeliner and nail polish from the bottom of his suitcase, but for now, he was happy with what he had gotten done. Surely, his mom couldn't complain, if the state of his nails were anything to go by.

Stan stared glumly at the chipping black polish on his left hand, twirling his cheap plastic fork around the carton of City Wok takeout he had absolutely no interest in with his right. His parents made idle chitchat over their own cartons of takeout, which Stan happily ignored in favor of contemplating his nails. Maybe he'd forgo the polish tomorrow if he was just going to be doing more lifting. It'd only be a waste of nail polish, right? But then again, he didn't want his mom thinking he would willingly do more work around the house. He didn't want her to think he didn't take his nails seriously. Which he did. Very much so.

Stan resisted the urge to sigh, knowing it would only attract his mother's attention, and focused back on his now inedible dinner. He had stirred the contents in the box so thoroughly that the food was no longer recognizable. Stan gagged at the thought of putting any of that into his mouth and pushed the carton away. Unfortunately, his mother took this as a sign that she was now allowed to make conversation with him and promptly started in.

"Are you excited about school, Stanley?"

Stan stared at her. She stared right back.

"It's school," he replied. What did she expect him to say?

"You'll get to see all your old friends," she continued, undaunted. That was the horrible thing about mothers. They never let up. No matter what you did.

Stan gritted his teeth, but refused to look down. She wouldn't win. Not this time.

"What's the point? They're all still the same people."

"Oh, you never know that," she replied, setting down her empty carton. Stan cringed in disgust.

"Yes, I do. Nothing ever changes in this town," Stan said, leaning back against a random box and crossing his arms in finality.

His mother sighed and glanced pointedly at his dad, who was sipping at his beer calmly.

"What?" he said, when he noticed her look.

"Randy!" she hissed, motioning towards Stan. Stan watched all this with passive eyes, just barely refraining from rolling them, which would only make this dinner drag on longer.

"Oh! Uh..." his father stumbled, setting his beer down on the floor and clearing his throat awkwardly. "Well, Stan... maybe, you'll meet someone new. Get a new boyfriend or something. Better than that last boy... what was his name again?"

Stan slowly unclenched his fists, just realizing he had tightened them in the first place. It wasn't really that he had a problem with his dad, either of his parents really. They normally got along just fine. Stan and his dad could easily just sit and watch TV together, not saying a word, as they could work on the car. Recently however, Stan's mom had gotten the idea planted into her head that parents should be more active in their children's lives, and so now, Stan couldn't go a day without having some kind of parental influence forced on him. It would have been worse if he knew that his dad didn't have to suffer through his mother's attempts with him.

Just three months ago, his mother had started getting on his case about his clothes, of all things, where she hadn't bothered before. After several shouting matches where Stan had declared he would wear as much black as he wanted, even around his eyes, she had finally let up about it, though he was sure she still was peeved over it.

Stan silently thought that his mother was a much better parent when she wasn't actively interfering with his life. She did more for him in the silent, supportive role. They both did. But he would never say so, so he was forced to endure talking about boys with his father.

"Victor, Dad," Stan responded. "And he wasn't my boyfriend."

"Well... that's just it, Stan," Randy continued, though he still looked uncomfortable. "You shouldn't be starting things with someone you're not committed to."

"Whatever," Stan said.

His father turned to his mom for approval, but she was already picking up his dad's thread.

"Stan, your father is trying to—"

"Yeah, I get it, Mom!" Stan interrupted. "I shouldn't be fooling around with guys who I'm not gonna date. Fine."

"Stan, I don't think you understand what we're trying to tell you," she reproached.

"I understand just fine, Mom."

"Do you? Then, can you tell me why you were with him to begin with?"

"Because we didn't care, Mom!" Stan snapped. "Not everyone wants to date exclusively! I didn't want a boyfriend, and he didn't care! But you just had to ruin it for me, didn't you?! Did you ever think that maybe I don't want to be in a relationship?!"

"Stan!" Sharon scolded, but Stan had already turned away. He knew what she was going to get into next: the importance of relationships and devoting yourself to someone fully. He didn't want to hear it. Surprisingly, the next words out of her mouth had nothing to do with that.

"Well, I'm sure you'll get right back into the swing of things. Maybe, you'll see Kyle again!" she said, like Stan's previous explosion hadn't happened.

Stan froze. Kyle. That was a subject he didn't want to touch. He bit his lip.

"Kyle and I aren't friends."

"You don't know that. You haven't seen each other in three years. You might pick up right where you left off," she said encouragingly.

"I doubt it," Stan said, back in his passive voice. His mom sighed and looked to his dad, who was back to enjoying his beer. She exhaled exasperatedly.

Stan knew his mother hated his passiveness most of all. It was easier to deal with him when he was shouting at her than when he was completely devoid of emotion. What she didn't know, didn't seem to realize, was that it was a lot harder to be so indifferent all the time than he let off. Especially when she brought up subjects like Kyle.

But he knew that to show anything more than dull interest was to throw gasoline on a flame, and she would never let it go if he gave her that advantage. And so, he pretended not to care. For both his mother's sake and his own.

"Well, let's get some rest," his mom finally managed, picking up their trash and sighing again when she noticed the state of Stan's carton. However, she refrained from commenting, probably saving that argument for another day.

Stan stayed where he was for another few minutes, just listening while his mother puttered around in their still useless kitchen. He sat with his father, enjoying the silence, then slowly picked himself up and headed up the stairs.

"Goodnight, Stan," his dad called, almost last minute. Stan paused at the top of the stairs and looked down at his father, sitting amongst the mess of boxes and covered furniture, still nursing his beer.

"Night, Dad," Stan replied, before continuing to his room.

Despite the last few days of his mother's relentless commentary and nagging, Stan somehow managed to get all his stuff unpacked and organized. He had spent all of yesterday hibernating in his room, which his mother had surprisingly allowed, most likely due to the fact that she was making him go to school today. On a Wednesday of all days.

Stan leaned his forehead against the car door window and let his breath fog up the glass, raising his gloved finger to quickly write THIS BITES before it faded.

"Do you have money for lunch, Stan?" his mom said, breaking the silence that had fallen over them ever since she had pushed him out of the house and into the car.

"Sure," Stan replied, still upset that she was forcing him to wear a coat, and a trench coat at that.

"It's black, Stanley," she had said. "And I made sure to buy you something that fits your style."

"It's a trench coat, Mom! How could that possibly fit my style?!"

"Well, don't you emos or whatever you call yourselves like stuff like this?"

Stan still cringed at the memory, but pulled away from the window to give his mother a look.

"Don't give me that, Stanley," she replied, knowing what he was angry with her for. "It's cold up here. You need to keep covered up."

"I'm seventeen, Mom. I have lived here for fourteen years. I think I can take care of myself."

"Stan," she reproached softly.

"I brought my own jacket, Mom!"

"That thing couldn't have possibly have kept you warm! It hardly reached your waist!"

"It's called fashion, Mom. It's meant to look that way. And it was wool! I would have been fine!"

"Stan," she sighed, pulling up to the curb right in front of the school. "Do this for me. Please? I'm just trying to look after you."

"Whatever," Stan replied, opening his door and stepping out, slinging his bag over his shoulder. However, she stopped him again, just as he was about to shut the door.

"Oh, and Stan? Take this, too," she smiled, handing over another piece of black wool. Stan stared down at the cloth in his hand and resisted the urge to groan.

"Mom... not a hat..." he said, voice just bordering on the edge of a whine.

"Oh, come on, Stan. You used to wear one all the time when you were young. And it's even black!"

Stan wanted to smack himself. How did that make it any better?

"Black doesn't just fix things, Mom. I'm not going to wear a hat."

"Why not?" she asked, as if it was really that much of a surprise to her.

Ugh. Did she really not see the outfit he had put on today? Skinny jeans and converse with a white long sleeve shirt over which was his favorite tee: blood red with thin black and white stripes that weren't easily noticeable at first glance. His jacket had completed the outfit perfectly until he had been forced to throw that horrendous trench coat over the whole thing, ruining the effect. And now, his mother wanted to add a hat. To the hair he had styled oh so carefully early that morning.

He so didn't have time for this.

"Bye, Mom," he said, shutting the door on her astonished face and walking away before she had time to call him back. The coat was coming off first thing as soon as he was inside the building, and it was going to the back of his locker where he would never have to see it again, along with the poof-ball hat.

Stan walked as quickly as possible, eyes focused straight on the ground in front of him, so he wouldn't be able to meet the eyes of anyone else, on the off chance that other people were stupid enough to stay outside in this weather. Of course, this was South Park, so he couldn't take any chances, but really, how stupid could everyone be?

Pretty stupid was the answer as he neared the entrance and noticed a group of kids loitering to the side of the building, smoking and staring at him with their black kohled eyes.


It seemed to be the same group as always, not that that was anything of a surprise to Stan, but they looked at him in disgust as he got closer, obviously sizing him up as wannabe conformist to their group. It didn't help that he was wearing that god-awful trench coat still.

Still, Stan hadn't lived in San Diego for two years without learning how to handle himself in this type of situation. He glared right back at them and continued up the steps to the front doors without a backward glance, pushing open the door to the school that was to be his prison for the rest of the year. He strode in confidently, ignoring the whispers of those around him. The only way to prove yourself to a group like the goths, or any other high school clique really, was to make sure they understood that you didn't care one way or another if you were allowed into their group or not. Then they would be scrambling to get you. But Stan didn't want in. He really didn't.

Immediately, Stan ripped off his coat, not once breaking stride, leaving his outfit the way it was supposed to be. Students gaped at him as he continued down the hall, but he hardly made eye contact at all, gripping that stupid coat in one hand, and the hat in the other.

His stomach started turning as he strode further into the mass of students wandering the halls, their voices growing softer then louder as they got over their initial shock of seeing him. Stan was suddenly glad he hadn't eaten that egg his mother had set before him that morning, though he could still feel the coffee he had drunk churning inside of him.

His nerves only grew as he started to hear his name among the ramblings around him. Figures it wouldn't take them long to realize who he was. But he was still big news, even though he wasn't anything new. After all, this was South Park, where nothing ever happened except for the most ridiculously cracked out shit.

Seriously, though. They couldn't keep staring forever, could they? There were more important things to be doing, right?

"Well, well, well," a voice said to Stan's left, obviously directed at him, familiar, but annoying enough that Stan knew he didn't want to stop.

However, the voice had different plans, or rather the guy connected to it did, and Stan was whirled around roughly to come face to face with...

"Ay! You little pussy!"

"Cartman," Stan replied, voice soft and indifferent, at its most annoying.

Cartman had bulked up since the last time Stan had seen him, all of his fat replaced with hardcore muscle. He was big, only a few inches taller than Stan, but still enough to be intimidating, and his brown eyes were narrowed right on Stan.

"Well..." Cartman said, grin splitting his face. "If it isn't my good old friend Stan. What are you doing here? I thought you had died when you ran off to be a hippie in San Francisco."

Stan twisted his wrist out of Cartman's surprisingly strong grip and stepped back, brushing imaginary dust off his arms. It was only then that he noticed the green letterman and the posse of equally big and muscled lunkheads behind his old friend.

Stan paused. Was Cartman... a jock? And was that Clyde?

It was mind-boggling to say the least, but already snickers were starting to come from Cartman and his group of followers, so Stan brushed off the weirdness and the huge virtual question mark that was looming over his head, deciding to pursue it at another time.

"Long Beach," Stan replied, in his usual calm voice. The jocks all stopped laughing and turned to stare at him incredulously, not quite sure what to make of him. Obviously, they weren't used to his kind of approach, a point Stan counted in his favor.

"What?" Cartman asked dumbly.

"It was Long Beach," Stan repeated, before waving down at his person. "And, obviously, you thought wrong."

Again, there was silence on the end of the jocks, all blinking stupidly at him. It had also grown unpleasantly silent around them in the hall, a fact which didn't bother Stan in the slightest. Not at all. Though, it was kind of ridiculous, Stan thought, how the moment he got back to South Park, his nervous stomach automatically returned, when it hadn't acted up once ever since he had left. Not that he was nervous or anything.

Still, Stan had to admit that he held the upper hand at the moment, though it was kind of pathetic how easily these guys could get thrown off balance. It was actually pretty funny watching Cartman stand there, staring at him with his mouth wide open, but Stan was kind of getting uncomfortable from the silence.

"You might wanna close your mouth?" Stan commented idly, his voice still suggesting that he was discussing something as dull as the weather... or politics.

"Ay!" Cartman complained, finally registering something other than shock.

"Oh, good," Stan said. "I thought something might have been wrong. You were just standing there."

However, it seemed like Cartman had already adjusted to Stan's style of talking, because nothing more than a grin crossed his face in response to Stan's words.

"Well, Stan. It seems like you've turned into one of those faggy emo pussies. Congratulations. You've finally reached your greatest ambition."

"Oh, shut your mouth, Cartman," Stan sighed, looking to one side tiredly. "Otherwise, your lackeys might realize what a dumb fatass you are."

Suddenly, Stan was pulled up off his feet, Cartman's fist clenched tight around the collar of Stan's jacket. The taller boy sneered as he leaned into Stan's face, eyes glinting angrily.

"You better watch yourself, Stan," he breathed gently as if genuinely giving advice to a friend, which would have completely icked Stan out if he hadn't been just the slightest bit worried for his safety. But only a tiny bit. After all, it was Cartman, and what could he really do? His completely psychotic ideas were the only thing he had going for him, and even then, he seemed to have gotten stupider since Stan had left.

"Yeah?" Stan said calmly, with more confidence than he felt at that particular moment. Cartman didn't seem to like this, as he only gripped Stan closer, making him wince at the thought of the state of his jacket.

"Yeah. Go join the other emo fags and stay out of my face," and with that Cartman shoved Stan away, giving him one last smirk before continuing down the hall with the rest of the jocks.

"Jesus," Stan muttered into the silence. "Overreact much?"

He finally realized himself and turned to give a look to the people standing closest to him, jumpstarting the rest of the hallway into a sudden frenzy of activity and conversation. Stan contemplated throwing a silent hissy fit, but ultimately decided that it would be too much of a bother and only earn him even stranger looks than he was already receiving for just being there. Instead, he straightened his collar and readjusted the strap of his bag, briefly pulling his schedule out of his back pocket to read the number he had scribbled there which led to his locker, before setting off again.

However, he didn't get very far before he was once again stopped by a voice calling out to him, no less familiar, but all the more welcome.


"Wendy," Stan said, half in greeting, half in indifference. It was good to keep that indifference there. It made it harder for people to read you. Which was a good thing. Especially when you didn't know how to read them.

"Stan!" the girl exclaimed, running forward to enfold him in a hug, which Stan didn't know quite what to do with. He contemplated saying it was good to see her, but thought it might seem a little off since he wasn't, exactly, so instead he just stayed quiet. Wendy, however, had no such qualms.

"Oh, wow! It's so good to see you! I couldn't believe it when I first saw you there, but it really is you! Isn't it?" the girl cried.

"Uh... yeah?" Stan responded, wondering if he should pat her on the back or something. His thoughts were interrupted though, by another familiar face.

"Hey, Stan," Token said, coming up behind Wendy and raising his hand in a casual wave.

And if Stan had been uncomfortable before, Token's arrival certainly cinched it. Suddenly, Stan couldn't breathe, and it wasn't because of the girl currently trying to choke the life out of him.

Damn, was Token good looking! He had definitely grown since Stan had last seen him and was probably around Cartman's height, if not taller. His features were smooth and warm, like that of a model, only Token didn't seem so untouchable. In fact, he seemed very touchable.

Stan swallowed and somehow managed to nod at the other, suddenly feeling too small in his clothes. And if that didn't just make the situation ten times more awkward, what with Wendy still holding on to him. She seemed to be taking her sweet time, and, not that Stan didn't appreciate the gesture or whatever, but he kind of wanted his body back.

Stan cleared his throat, and Wendy finally decided to release him from her clutches, stepping away and letting him breathe. All the blood rushed to his head.

Wendy beamed at him.

"So what are you doing back in South Park?" she inquired. "Last I heard, you were living in Long Beach."

Stan took a few moments to collect himself before he gave his reply, letting the oxygen flow back to his brain, adjusting his shoulder strap, and pointedly not looking at Token.

"Actually, it was in San Diego," he finally said.

"What? Really? But didn't your dad get the job offer in Long Beach?" she asked.

"Well, yeah," he replied slowly. "And I lived there for about a year, but it kinda fell through for various reasons, and we ended up moving to San Diego."

"Oh, I see," Wendy responded, looking like she was trying her hardest to stay nonjudgmental. It wasn't that big of a deal. Stan was used to people thinking of his father as a bit on the irresponsible side. He himself didn't know the particulars of what had happened with the Long Beach job, but he was inclined to think that Wendy's ideas weren't too far from the truth.

"Well, that's cool," Token commented, breaking the short pause that had just occurred. "Must have been pretty nice there with all the sun and stuff. So what are you doing back here?

Stan had to quickly remind himself that he was not allowed to hit on straight guys, no matter how good looking they were. That was just cause for a huge gay bashing right there.

"Ah, well, there were problems with the job in San Diego, too," Stan said, which only gave rise to another awkward moment of silence among the three of them. Stan knew what they were thinking. Just how dumb could his father be to not be able to hold down a job? And it was pretty much true, but Stan wasn't going to do them the honor of alleviating the awkwardness, if only because it gave him more power over them as they had to struggle with what to say without sounding like complete assholes.

Stan counted to forty-one before Wendy finally cleared her throat and smiled at him.

"Well, you sure look different. I like the outfit."

At least someone appreciated his efforts.

"Thanks," he said, flashing her one of his rare smiles. It seemed to ease the tension in the air. "But really, my mom tried to get me to wear a trench coat this morning. A trench coat! Can you believe her?"

Wendy and Token exchanged glances before coming to some kind of silent agreement and stepping forward on either side of him.

"Let's get to class," Wendy said, gently guiding him forward with a light push of her hand on the small of his back.

Okay, fine, Stan grumbled in his mind. Just forget it.

"So it's still the same one homeroom?" Stan asked indifferently, tone just on the edge of being bored.

"Of course," Token replied. "It's been that way since grade school. Who else was going to join in?"

"Underclassmen?" Stan asked disinterestedly.

"Dude. Then there'd be only one homeroom total."

Stan shrugged indifferently, just letting himself be guided through the crowd of students rushing to their classes. What did it matter anyway? It was just the same old South Park.

However, suddenly Stan froze. A glimpse of red hair had caught his attention. Wendy and Token stopped as well on either side of him, wondering at the sudden halt. But Stan had no eyes for them. All of his focus was on the group currently heading in his direction, at the center of which was...

"Kyle," Stan breathed softly, his voice hardly substantial enough for anyone to understand. And yet, it was as if the red-haired boy didn't need to hear him to know that his name had been said, for he glanced up from the book he had previously had his nose buried in and looked right into Stan's eyes.

Shock registered quickly enough. Stan could tell that well enough from the initial widening of those emerald eyes, but what was really confusing, what really put Stan at a loss was the complete lack of any kind of emotion a second later, as if someone had just completely wiped away any trace of acknowledgement from Kyle's face, like chalk off a chalkboard.

Some unnamable feeling bubbled up inside of Stan.

Stan watched as Kyle turned his attention to the person at his right, muttering some words with the same lack of expression that he had just showed Stan.

What was that? Obviously, Kyle had recognized him enough to stop in his tracks, the rest of his group stopping with him, but then to completely disregard him the next moment?

Stan was so caught up in muddling over this that it took him a while to realize that the blonde Kyle had turned to was glaring at him. It took him a while longer to realize that that blonde was Kenny.


Stan stared into those familiar light blue eyes, now burning with hatred directed straight at him.

Stan knew he had really never been any good at reading people. He had a hard enough time figuring his own emotions out. But there was no mistaking the look in Kenny's eyes. And Stan was completely overwhelmed by it.

But in the next minute, movement from Stan's peripheral caught his attention, and he broke eye contact and looked right, where a boy, who could be no other than Tweek Tweak, had dropped his coffee.

"GAH!" he cried, and even Stan could pick that up, even from the distance he was at. While Stan couldn't say that this was a strange occurrence, for some reason, he couldn't help but stare somewhat shocked, as if Tweek dropping his coffee had never happened before. However, the same could not be said for the rest of the hallway, as everyone kept about their business, not even stopping to give the boy a passing glance.

The only sign that someone other than Stan had noticed was Kyle walking over and bending over to pick up Tweek's spilled thermos, handing it to the shivering boy and muttering another few indiscernible words at him.

They started walking in Stan's direction, quickly flanked by the two that had been on either side of Kyle before: Kenny and, Stan was just realizing, Craig.

The four of them strode through the hall easily, students quick to get out of their way. Kenny was the only one who deigned to greet any of the students they passed by, but even then, he returned to his company, talking quickly and energetically to all of them, by the looks of it, and gaining a few words from the others in turn for his efforts.

However, he didn't seem to mind. In fact, Kenny was incredibly lively, smiling, with his arm slung around Kyle's shoulders, his previous anger seemingly gone. Craig would stoically reply to whatever Kenny was saying, flipping his finger every so often, whether the moment called for it or not. Tweek looked back and forth between the two, left eye twitching every few seconds, but Kyle seemed to be the least interested in what Kenny had to say, his face still devoid of emotion, completely blank.

Stan watched as they steadily grew closer, still frozen to his spot in the middle of the hall. Thoughts were racing through his head a mile a minute, each too mind-numbing for him to think of for long. However, as the group neared him, about to bowl him over, one thought would just not get out of his head.

Sometime, somehow, all the guys in South Park had gotten ridiculously good looking.

Craig, with his dark hair and dark blue eyes, shrouded in his trademark blue clothing... well, Stan had to swallow down his hormones that were threatening to jump out his throat. Tweek was all light skin and blonde hair, lighter than Kenny's, pretty, but most definitely male if his snug straight-leg jeans and long-sleeve button-down were anything to go by. Kenny also had a certain attractiveness to him, something that seemed to scream sex appeal, even though he was in nothing but jeans and a green hoodie. However, the real surprise was Kyle, whose smaller frame spoke of a fragility the others somehow lacked. And still, Kyle's maleness could not be mistaken, wrapped as it was in black jeans and a simple black sweater. Something was driving Stan's brain into aligning the redhead with some kind of god.

It was as if someone had turned on the sexy meter all the way to high, and Stan couldn't be bothered to care that he was about to be run over as long as it was at the heels of the people in front of him.

The feeling didn't last long though, as Token abruptly pulled Stan to one side, thoroughly disrupting his raging hormones from taking over, and the group passed by with no indication at all that they had even noticed Stan had once been there.

A subtle sting made itself known in Stan's lower stomach as he watched the group of four continue on to their lockers, and even though Stan would deny it, deny that he knew what that feeling was since he was so bad at figuring those kind of things out anyway, he just knew that there was no denying that that pain had been because Kyle had just passed right by without once acknowledging that he even existed.

"That was one hell of a nerve wreck," Token said, breaking into the fog that had started to surround Stan's thoughts. For which Stan was glad. "Are things always that outrageously tense and gay for you?"

Stan almost scowled at Token for that, but regained his sense of self quickly.

"No," was Stan's answer, short enough that he could still pass it off as not caring, but also enough to let Token know that that was it.

Token wisely backed off.

Wendy and Token led him the rest of the way to class, though Stan honestly couldn't say he remembered much of it, preoccupied as he was at not thinking once about what had just happened in the hallway. He didn't care that Kyle had ignored him. They weren't friends, and that was that. The subject was closed, and Stan wasn't thinking about it. He really wasn't.

He entered the classroom trailing behind Wendy, all thoughts of the encounter gone from his mind. There were more important things to worry about, he told himself, as he took off his gloves and followed Wendy to a seat towards the front of the room, like his eyeliner and his nail polish and his hair that would not be covered by that stupid hat his mother had gotten for him and—


Stan stopped just as he was about to sit down. He hadn't gone to his locker and was now stuck carrying the trench coat and hat with him for the rest of the morning.

"Godammit," he muttered.

Stan did not huff when he was finally able to throw the trench coat and hat to the back of his locker. He may have glared at the metal slightly, but only to reinforce just how much he hated that coat and hat. However, when he slammed the locker shut it was with no more emotion than the energy required to normally do such a thing.

Entering the lunchroom was another story. When Stan had left South Park, the tables had been arranged in such a way that the boys all had one side of the cafeteria to themselves, while the girls had the other. Of course, they all hadn't been able to fit at a single table, but even when it had just been him, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny, there had been some kind of unity between all the boys. That no longer seemed to be the case.

Gone were the bifurcated sides of the cafeteria. Instead, there were over a dozen small round tables, which seemed to emphasize the severity of the separateness of the cliques, which Stan had seen more than his fair share of that morning.

It was confusing to say the least.

Stan studiously ignored the stares coming from every direction and planted himself in the lunch line, which took a surprisingly short amount of time to go through. However, he was once again at a loss when he had come back through, staring at each individual table and trying to reconcile the image of all his old friends in each group.

In the middle of the room were the jocks, Cartman, Clyde, and a bunch of other burly guys, all sporting lettermans with patches from practically every sport South Park had to offer. They were rowdy and obnoxious in that way that Stan assumed only athletes could be.

On the other hand, Kyle sat with Kenny at a table on the far side, as far away from the jocks as possible. He was once again engrossed in a large book, seemingly different than the one he had had on him that morning, though he would pause occasionally to highlight some of the text or jot something down in a notebook at his side. Also sitting with him were Craig and Tweek, so it seemed there was some kind of established clique going on there, though exactly what it was, Stan couldn't tell.

However, Stan didn't look for long, on the off chance, that he would be noticed staring. Not that he cared if he was noticed. Because he didn't. It just seemed that every time he had crossed paths with Kenny that morning, which was quite often, considering, the blonde had a glare for him. In fact, Kenny had been in every class Stan had been to, excepting AP English, Stan's only advanced class, where he had once again run into an emotionless Kyle and once again been snubbed by him.

It wasn't like Stan had paid any real great attention to his ex best friend, besides to notice that Kyle looked really awesome with his hair cut all short like that, still long enough to have a messy curl to it, but not so long that it was completely wild the way it used to be. And that Kyle had really nice skin, all pale and creamy, which really brought out his eyes. But besides that, Stan hadn't paid one iota of attention to the redhead. Though, it did seem like Kyle spent a lot of his time studying or with his head in a book. The boy hardly seemed to do much else.

Which was weird, Stan thought. Because even though Kyle had always been concerned about his grades, it had never gotten in the way of his normal behavior, like just hanging out, which it seemed like Kyle couldn't even attempt to manage in his new group.

Not that Stan cared or anything.

As Craig got up, most likely heading for the lunch line, Stan quickly turned his head away, immediately cursing himself afterwards.

His line of vision settled on a table on the other end of the cafeteria, where it took a moment, before he realized a girl was waving him over.

"Stan!" Wendy called. She was sitting with Token and a short black-haired boy that Stan didn't recognize. None of them were wearing black. However, Stan just mentally shrugged and headed over, otherwise he would have to seek out the goths and try to join their group, which was just not cool. Besides, this way, he stood out even more, showing that he didn't need to conform to the school's pre-ordained ways.

"Hey," Token greeted as he sat down, Wendy smiling brightly at him. Stan tilted his head towards each of them in turn, setting down his bag and taking a sip from his coffee.

"Hey, Stan," the other boy piped up, to whom Stan glanced at curiously, taking another drink from his coffee before recognition hit.

"Ike?" he asked.

The boy smiled at him cheerily, eyes crinkling up at the sides. Stan stared, mind frozen. Really, this was too many things to take in at once.

"You're part of the smart group," Stan said slowly, a statement more than a question.

"Only on a technicality," Ike grinned. "Lunch is the only time spent together. Usually, I'm with my own friends."

"Oh," Stan said, then promptly wished he hadn't. To cover any embarrassment that might have showed on his face, he drank deeply from his coffee, setting it down only after he felt that he wouldn't act like a loser again.

"So, how have you been?" he asked idly, just on the edge of polite, but still uncaring.

"Okay," Ike said, shrugging. "Better than some, anyway."

Stan nodded, cup to his lips, eyes trained on a spot on the table that he wasn't really seeing.

"And you?" the boy asked, admittedly with a lot more interest than Stan had shown.

Stan shrugged, looking up to meet Ike's stare. Silence ensued.

Slowly, Stan dragged his eyes away, so as not to seem that he was backing down, and started surveying the rest of the lunchroom.

"So, how were your morning classes, Stan?" Wendy asked, taking a bite out of her homemade sandwich.

Normally, Stan wouldn't dignify such a question with a response. It was school. How were you supposed to feel about it? But since Wendy was the one who had asked it, he felt like he ought to attempt to say something.

"I've had worse," he finally settled on, eyes focused on one of the tables on Kyle's side of the cafeteria, where it seemed like Jimmy, Timmy, Thomas, and a few other boys were quietly sitting, heads downcast as a group of girls passed by them.

Wendy noticed where he was looking and leaned into him, as if disclosing a big secret.

"The rejects," Wendy said softly, though not enough to be counted as whispering.

Rejects? Stan raised his eyebrow at her. Wasn't that a bit harsh?

Wendy shrugged back at him, looking like she wanted to say something, but ultimately staying quiet. Stan decided to file the question away for later. He directed his focus to another group, pointing casually.

"And them?"

"Potentials," Wendy responded, earning another raised eyebrow from Stan.

"Potentials?" he questioned.

"Underclassmen who will most likely end up at the forefront next year," Token filled in.

"And by the forefront," Wendy added, "we mean, one of us." She waved a hand around the table.

Stan turned to Ike who automatically seemed to know what he was thinking.

"A technicality," he said. "Since I've already met my potential."

Stan tried to ignore the big question mark that was once again looming over his head, but it seemed the others had already picked up on it. That, or they were just really awesome at reading people.

"You have to understand, Stan," Wendy began, already looking like she was setting in for a big lecture. "Things have changed since you've been gone. We didn't have all this before, but now that it's here, there's no getting rid of it. You just have to get used to the system."

"System?" Stan said, already feeling like this was going to be much more of a bother than it was worth.

Wendy smiled at him in a reassuring way, as if picking up on his thoughts and saying "Don't worry. I'm here to explain everything."

Dammit. He'd really have to work on burying those thoughts deeper if everyone here seemed to be able to interpret them so easily. And he'd had this down pat, too, at least, he did back in San Diego.

Wendy reached into her backpack for a paper and pen, clearing her lunch to the side and moving closer to Stan.

"So, there are five top groups from our class: the jocks, the goths, the foreigners, the outcasts, and us," Wendy said, drawing a circle around each name she had written at the top of the paper. Then she drew a line stemming from the jock circle to the side.

"The jocks have a sub-group for the cheerleaders," she explained, then drew a few circles below the top five.

"Then, you have the groups that form with no clear image. And right below them," she said, drawing another circle underneath, "are the rejects."

"Of course, those are only the groups pertaining to our class," Token added. "Each top group has a potential group similar to ours, though they don't all operate the same way."

"So, basically what you're saying," Stan said, "is that there is no person in this entire school that isn't in some kind of clique?"

Token looked to Wendy for a second before turning back to Stan.

"Basically, yeah," he replied.

"Okay," Stan said slowly, looking to Token. "So, why aren't you one of the jocks?"

"Because I wasn't good enough," Token replied, shrugging. "And it was either that or be a cheerleader, and so far the only male cheerleader we have is Butters, but he doesn't count since he's gay."

"What?" Stan said, with only a mild warning in his tone.

"No offense," Token added idly, sounding like he didn't really mean it. Not that Stan cared. From what he had seen of Butters this morning, who was currently sitting at the cheerleader table with all the other girls, the boy really did belong where he was.

"Of course, you stick to your group once you're in it, and only associate sparingly with other people from other groups," Wendy continued.

Stan turned his attention to what he assumed was the foreigner table, where Gregory, Christophe, Pip, and Damien were all eating lunch.

"So, why is Damien sitting with the foreigners? Is hell now considered a different country?"

"No," Wendy replied. "However, couples are an exception."

Stan blinked. So, Damien... and Pip? Or was it Gregory? Or the Mole? Or all of them? Stan shook his head, refusing to think how that situation could be hot in anyway. Even though it kind of was.

"And Kyle?" Stan asked, voice as its most indifferent, pointedly not looking at Ike.

"The outcasts," Wendy said, pointing to Kyle's table on the other side of the room.

"Kenny's an outcast?" Stan asked.

"Not really," Token replied. "But he's always with Kyle, and Kyle doesn't fit in any of the other groups, so they kinda made their own."

"So, Kyle's an outcast," Stan said, only trying to clarify what he was being told rather than out of any real interest.

"Well, yeah, dude," Token responded. "I mean, after you left..." The boy trailed off.

"What?" Stan asked, not quite able to keep the shocked curiosity out of his voice.

"What he means is that Kyle... changed after you left," Wendy said, looking once at Ike before turning back to Stan. "He was kind of, well, rebellious the rest of that year."

Stan looked questioningly at Ike, but the younger boy just nodded and looked back to Wendy.

"And, well, the whole year Kenny did his best to pull Kyle out of it, but we never saw any change."

"What happened?" Stan asked.

"We don't know," Token answered. "We didn't see either of them all summer, and when school started again, Kyle was like this. He's been that way ever since."

"What do you mean?" Stan asked, furrowing his eyebrows.

"You saw him this morning," Token said.

"Yeah, he wasn't like anything this morning," Stan replied. "There wasn't anything there."


What? Stan glanced at Wendy and then at Ike, but both were wearing the same expression on their faces. Pity. For him.

Stan breathed deeply, trying to let the oxygen cure his confusion. But as the seconds ticked on and his confusion didn't clear up, he only got more frustrated.

How could they just say that? About Kyle! And act like it was nothing! Kyle, who used to be one of their friends, Ike's brother, even if he wasn't anymore!

"Stan," Wendy said gently, breaking through his thoughts. "Kyle isn't broken. He's just not, well, really anything, at the moment."

Stan's anger exploded.

"What do you mean he's not really anything?" he asked, voice low, sharp. "I saw him! He was walking around just like anyone else!"

"Stan, you haven't been here for the last three years. Kyle's grades are like perfect, dude!" Token said, leaning forward to get closer to Stan.

"What does that have to do with anything?" Stan bit out, not even looking at his friend, but at some point off near the wall.

"Dude, they are perfect! I mean, like one hundred percent in every subject! The guy does nothing but study! He has no personality!"

Stan's eyes snapped to Token, anger burning inside him from somewhere he couldn't identify.

"Stan, it's true," Ike spoke up, to whom Stan directed his glare. Ike just stared back at him with sad eyes.

"I'm his brother, and I hardly know more than what everyone else does," Ike said, eyes never once leaving Stan's. "But Kyle was bad, really bad after you left. Even Mom couldn't do anything about him. I hardly ever saw him. He was either locked in his room all day, or he was out doing who knows what, and he never talked to us. But then, he suddenly started acting normal again... well, I mean, as normal as a person can be when... well, yeah. And that's how he's been for the last two years. He eats meals with us and acts like any other person, but it just seems like he's... going through the motions. And there's nothing really there."

Ike smiled at Stan sadly, before looking back down at his lunch, presumably finished with talking.

Stan felt the anger in him mellow to a dull burn. What was he angry for anyway? It's not like it was his place to say anything about what had happened since he had left. Stan had been happy away from South Park, where he'd finally had a chance to figure out who he was, without Kyle.

Stan sighed and leant back in his seat, slowly picking up his coffee and taking a sip, grimacing when the cold liquid hit his tongue. He stared out across the cafeteria, where Kyle was still sitting with his group, scribbling note after note into his notebook.

Had so much really changed since he had been gone? Or did it just seem that way because he no longer fit in?

"So, I guess Kenny must have helped him out of his rut," Stan commented after a few more moments of silence.

Ike looked up from his lunch and smiled at Stan weakly.

"Yeah," he said. "It may not seem like much, but it's a million times better than how he was before."

Stan nodded, still gazing towards Kyle's table, and pushed his coffee away, twisting the cap off his water bottle to take a drink.

"What about Craig and Tweek?" he asked, watching as Kenny stole an apple off of Craig, who promptly flipped the other boy off before turning back to continue talking to Tweek.

"Well, Craig would have made it with the football team," Token said, "but he never made it on after he got into a fight with Clyde. He beat him pretty badly. Got suspended for two weeks."

"What was the fight about?"

"I don't know," Token shrugged. "I had already taken up with Wendy here. Gregory was with us for a while too, but he left so he could join Pip and Damien. The Mole joined after that."

"So, Craig joined up with Kenny because he didn't fit anywhere else?" Stan asked.

"Well, no," Wendy said. "Craig and Tweek were kind of on their own, so they became really close friends. It wasn't until Kyle started tutoring Tweek that they joined up with Kyle and Kenny."

"Ah," Stan said, watching that group of outcasts interact for a moment longer before turning back to his own table.

And, that was it.

The table sat for a few minutes in silence, before Token finally looked up to see Stan drinking his bottled water and said, "Dude. Is that all you're having for lunch?"

So Stan decided that he could explain the craziness behind his eating habits, if only to stay away from the ever more craziness that was "the system" behind the cliques at this school.

Facing his open locker, Stan debated whether he should take the coat and hat home, so that - at least - his mother knew he still had them, but ultimately decided that it would be too much trouble on his part and all sorts of consequences might pop up if he did. The only problem with his decision was that he would have to confront those stupid articles of clothing every day for the rest of the year every time he opened his locker. But as Stan slowly shut the door on the offending items, he idly thought that it was his only choice if he was to avoid having his mom force him to wear them again.

Still, it was Friday, and that could speak for itself as Stan greatly welcomed the oncoming weekend. He had spent three days in this hellhole of a school and had somehow managed to survive thus far, even with all the struggles he was facing, namely Cartman and the jocks, and Kenny and Kyle and their total disregard for him, and everyone else that wasn't his normal group of people that he sat with at lunch.

Yes, he had somehow earned a spot at the smart group's table, despite evidence that proved he was less than worthy of that position. Some of the potentials were mightily upset, indeed, but the rest of his year seemed to think nothing of it, as he was on such good terms with Wendy and Token.

Even so, the last few days had passed as a nightmare, and Stan couldn't be happier that he would have three nights to completely vegetate in his room without the constant annoyance that surrounded him at school. His impending freedom warmed Stan to the core, though he in no way or form acted like a total idiot by grinning manically. Not at all.

Stan ran into Wendy just as he was nearing the front doors, and feeling in such a genial mood, decided he wouldn't just walk by her without letting her say bye.

"Hey, Stan!" she said to him, pulling on her gloves at the door.

"Hey," he responded, opening the door for her to walk out into the cold in front of him.

"Have any plans for tonight?" she asked as they descended the steps of the school amongst all the other fleeing teens.

"Lock myself in my room 'til Monday?" Stan replied, adjusting the strap of his bag so that it hung more comfortably across his torso.

"Well, there's going to be a party tonight at Clyde's house, if you wanted to come," she said, smiling at him in an encouraging way.

Stan stared back at her dully, trying not to say, "Do I look like I want to come?" right back at her, not wanting to cause problems with the only few people who seemed to not hate him, ignore him, or stare at him as if he was some kind of side show freak, which he still hadn't seemed to shake yet.

"Everyone will be there," Wendy cajoled, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.

"Who's everyone?" Stan asked, stalling while he tried to figure out how to just tell her no without sounding harsh.

"Oh, well, the jocks," Wendy replied. Obviously, Stan thought. "And pretty much our entire year as well. Maybe a few others."

"I thought groups weren't supposed to associate," Stan said, remembering the discussion they had had just two days ago. And from what he'd seen, that rule mostly held true. There were a few exceptions Stan had noticed once or twice, but for the most part, everyone stayed in their designated clique, or however they had all decided to merge.

"How much socializing do you think will occur?" Wendy laughed. "This is just an excuse for everyone to get drunk, laid, or wasted."

"Then what's the point?" Stan asked, wondering why you'd willingly put a bunch of people together who wanted nothing to do with each other.

"Well, it's something of a tradition," Wendy said, smiling less brightly at him now, probably realizing the complete idiocy of the stupid "system." "There's a party every Friday, never at the same house, and everyone always goes. I don't really know why. It's not that fun now that I think about it..."

Wendy trailed off, looking off to the side as if trying to understand her own reasons for going. She quickly looked back up at him after a few seconds, grinning nonetheless.

"Token and I will be there," she stated without pause, as if completely forgetting the last thing she said. Stan wondered what she would do if he just walked over and started socializing with the foreigners, not that he ever would, since they all seemed to be douches anyway. But would she even notice? Or would it not matter? That was how ridiculous this whole "system" thing was to him. To the whole school, he thought.

"We'll see," Stan finally said in farewell, walking off when he spotted his mom's car waiting a few feet away.

"Hi, Stanley," his mom greeted as he slid quickly into the car. "How was your day?"

"Are you really going to ask me that, Mom?" Stan replied. "Haven't you already realized that I'm never going to bother with a response? And you know why? Because being forced to go to school for fourteen years of your life to slave away at an education that is in no way useful at any point in time later on in your life is never going to be a highlight of my day for either positive or negative reasons. So you should just stop asking."

"Really, Stan," his mom reproached mildly. "You're always so melodramatic."

Stan felt the anger rise inside of him, but decided it wasn't worth it and turned to lean against the window, ignoring his mother for the rest of the ride back to the house.

His mom barely had a chance to put the car in park before he was out of his door and into the house, barely stopping to take off his jacket and gloves before continuing up to his room.

"Stanley!" his mom called right before he was able to close the door to the sanctuary that was his room.

"What?" he yelled back, eager to get started on his weekend of hibernation from the outside world.

"Don't get too engrossed into one of your little games. When your father gets home, we're going over to dinner at the Broflovskis'."

"What?!" Stan said, throwing open his door and racing down the stairs where his mother was still taking off her coat and purse.

"We're having dinner with the Broflovskis," she said, no longer having to yell now that they were in the same room.

Stan gaped at her, eyes open wide, staring unseeingly as she walked past him, heading towards the kitchen. Stan stood there silently for a few moments before coming back to himself and chasing after her.

"But... but Mom! Why?!" he asked incredulously, while she pulled a glass out of a cabinet and filled it with water.

"What do you mean why, Stanley? They invited us over," she replied, sipping the water slowly.

"But you haven't talked to them in years! What's the point of having dinner?" Stan protested.

"They're still our friends, Stanley. Just because we haven't seen them in a while doesn't change anything. Haven't you been hanging around with Kyle again?"

"No!" Stan exclaimed.

"Oh, well, that doesn't get you out of this dinner, Stanley," his mom replied matter-of-factly.

"But Mom!" Stan argued.

"No buts, Stanley. You're still part of this family, whether you want to be or not, and you're not going to disrespect the Broflovskis' by refusing to come. So you'd best be ready to leave by seven," his mom admonished, before setting her glass down and turning away, signaling that the conversation was over.

Once again, Stan felt a burn rise up inside him, his anger threatening to erupt at any second. He fisted his hands in his hair, wanting to throw something, but knowing that would not get him out of the dinner either way. There was only one thing he could do.

"Agh!" he screamed, slamming his fists down on the counter before swiftly turning around and running back up to his room, making sure to slam the door as hard as he could while he was at it.

And while that would still not get him out of the dinner or do anything to relieve his anger, it would let his mother know that he would not be forgetting this and that while he may go along and play nice, he would loathe her for every minute of it.

Dammit. He just couldn't seem to get away from Kyle. It was like the redhead had the whole town under his control! These last few days of school, Stan couldn't turn anywhere and not have the Jew's very existence not thrown in his face, whether it was direct or not. In every class, there was Kenny or Craig or Tweek sitting just feet away to remind him how they were no longer friends. There was Cartman to mock him at every chance, always commenting on Stan's separation from his best friend. There was Ike at lunch, whose very presence was a shock to Stan's system. And there was Kyle himself, whose blank face and rigorous study habits were just like a blow to his gut, a reminder that Kyle was no longer who he used to be.

It was like no matter how far Stan tried to distance himself, Kyle would always be a part of his life.

"Even San Diego wasn't far enough," Stan muttered to himself, bracing his hands on his desk and staring down.

Just then he noticed the state of his nails and gasped when he brought them up to inspect more closely. He had only just touched them up last night and already they were chipping again. Stan strode to the mirror hanging on the wall next to the door and groaned when he saw his hair, ruined from when he had fisted it earlier.

That would need fixing, he thought, before it was time to go to the Broflovskis'. And he'd need to fix his nails as well. And he might as well pick out a new outfit while he was at it and reapply his eyeliner.

Not that he cared what Kyle's family thought. Or Kyle for that matter. No, he definitely did not care what Kyle thought of how he looked. It was merely a matter of standards. Yes, that was it. Standards.

And so, Stan spent the next three hours perfecting his look in a way he never had before, pouring himself into his tightest pair of skinny jeans and debating over the best top. He completely repainted his nails, adding two extra coats so they were blacker than black and burnt the tip of his eyeliner stick so that the end was at it's darkest before applying. He spent a whole hour straightening his already straight hair, making sure his bangs were at their longest and covered his eyes significantly. He only barely had time to add the finishing touch, his absolute most favorite dark gray jacket with the buckle across the torso and dark green vertical stripe going down the side before his mother was calling for him to come down.

"Honestly, Stan," she griped as they climbed into his dad's car. "Could you have made yourself look less approachable?"

"Leave him alone, Sharon," his dad cut in, before it could turn into a full-blown argument. "If that's what he wants to wear, let him wear it. God knows, it's not as bad as half the stuff teens are wearing these days."

"But Randy! He looks like—" his mother continued, but Stan had already tuned her out, slumping back against his seat and running his fingers up the soft wool on his other hand, enjoying the texture.

That was one thing about South Park that Stan had always liked. Wearing gloves. He loved the feel of the wool resting against his hands, loved how gently they protected his skin from the cold. Or tried to, at any rate. It was a simple thing, but Stan liked the simplicity of it, how the smooth fabric just kept on with it's plight. No matter what kind of rough terrain it was forced upon, the wool never stopped feeling so good.

"Stanley! You make sure you're polite while we're there," his mother warned. "If you start up with any of your attitude, I'll take away your Playstation."

"You can't take away my Playstation, Mom," Stan said dully.

"I mean it, Stanley!" his mom said, turning around in her seat just as his father cut off the engine. "No lip or your makeup is gone!"

"What?!" Stan cried, sitting up and following his mother out of the car. "Dad! She can't do that! That's not fair!"

"Yes, I can! I'm your mother, and you still live in my house," she said, ringing the doorbell.

"Dad! Tell her she can't do that! You're the man in the family! Take command!"

"Sharon... Stan..." his dad said weakly, and then the door swung open to reveal Gerald Broflovski on the other side. Stan promptly clicked his teeth together and stared off to the side.

"Randy! Sharon!" Mr. Broflovski greeted cheerfully. "It's great to see you!"

"Hey, bud!" his dad said, grinning, stepping up close to give his old friend a one-armed hug and pat on the back. "Long time no see."

"Come in, come in," Gerald ushered, pausing when Stan followed his mother through the door. "Stan! Wow, you sure look different. How have you been?"

"Hi, Mr. Broflovski," Stan greeted calmly, accepting the man's fatherly pat on the back.

"Well, come on in," Gerald said once he had closed the door on the cold. "Sheila's just finishing up in the kitchen."

Stan solemnly followed the other adults through the living room, stopping abruptly when he noticed the boy watching TV on the couch.

"Hey, Stan," Ike greeted, smiling warmly.

Ike! Stan had completely forgotten that the boy would be here! Well, of course he would. He was part of the family after all. Stan smiled softly, suddenly feeling this dinner wouldn't be so bad after all.

"Hey," Stan said, sitting down beside the younger boy.

"Nice jacket," Ike grinned.

"Thanks," Stan said, looking down at himself. He couldn't help but feel proud at his own appearance.

"You didn't have to get all dressed up just for us, you know," the boy said, flipping the channel on the TV until he came to the news. Stan repressed making a face.

"Nothing else to do," Stan shrugged, sitting back to stare at the TV silently beside the boy. He heard his parents making small talk in the kitchen, probably catching up on old times or whatever it was old people did when they got together for these sorts of things. On the screen, some man was discussing something about an election or something... in Iran? What the hell?

"Are you going to the party tonight?" Ike asked once a break had started in the show.

"I doubt it," Stan replied indifferently. "Why? Are you going?"

"Me?" Ike laughed. "No way. Seniors only. I'd be dead before I stepped inside."

Stan hummed noncommittally, staring blankly at some commercial for some new type of toothpaste.

"It's just as well," he replied, once the news was back on. "Otherwise, Cartman might get a black mark on his football record for murder against a minority."

Ike giggled quietly.

"Or get kicked off the team permanently."

The two boys looked at each other, each wearing some horrified kind of expression, before they both burst out snickering. And that seemed to be the cue for their parents to come back into the room, this time with Mrs. Broflovski in the lead.

"Stan!" Sheila cried cheerfully, effectively quieting their laughter. "It's been such a long time! How are you?"

"Hi, Mrs. Broflovski," Stan said, standing up in case she wanted to hug him like all mother figures tended to do. "I've been good."

Sheila Broflovski stared at his face for a good time, then taking in his entire person before deciding she didn't care what he looked like and encircling him in a hug anyway.

"Oh, you look so much older! Just like my Kyle. It seems like black is the only thing you kids wear nowadays."

Stan tried not to suffocate for the short amount of time she had him in her chokehold, stepping back once she had released him and offering her a fake grin.

"I guess it's just the style, right?" he shrugged, trying to put more effort into his words than he normally would.

"Quite right," Sheila said, nodding her head as if she completely understood. "Well, Kyle's up in his room studying if you wanted to say hi to him. Dinner should be ready in a few minutes."

And then she stood there as if expecting him to cheer and race up the stairs just like he would have a few years ago. Actually, not even, because a few years ago, he wouldn't have needed an invite to head up to Kyle's room. But now with the mother Broflovski staring at him in an expecting way, and his parents standing right behind her, his mother with a warning look on her face, he was practically being dragged up there against his own free will.

"Thanks, Mrs. Broflovski," he said politely, not quite managing a smile, but hoping it was nothing that would get him into trouble later, before slowly turning around and heading up the stairs, feeling like he was walking to death's door. Ike gave him an encouraging grin, but did not offer to go up with him, probably wanting to keep away from the tension, the traitor, and Stan felt his stomach grow increasingly more nervous the closer he got to the top of the stairs.

Godammit, the whole town was against him, Stan thought as he neared the open doorway, dreading to step into the room. He heard the scritch scratch of pencil against paper before his sight was suddenly filled with the blue walls of Kyle's room.

The boy in question was sitting at his desk, actually studying, textbook opened before him, and pencil moving steadily across a sheet of paper. His profile was in clear sight, red head bowed over his work, green eyes narrowed in focus, one leg bent underneath him, more out of comfort than anything else. He was dressed in the same simple black jeans and sweater he seemed to favor now, if it could be said he favored anything, considering that he supposedly had no personality.

Well, it could be said that he favored studying, Stan thought, shuddering right after, wondering how anyone could want to study. But he seemed to do it as much as Wendy and Token claimed he did, so that was something, even if it was a boring something.

Stan stood there for a few more moments, just watching Kyle work, before he realized he was supposed to go in and say hi, and his heart automatically sped up. Well, wait. He didn't necessarily have to talk to Kyle. After all, it's not like Sheila would know the difference, would she?

Stan smiled to himself. Of course. Why didn't he think of it before? He cast one last glance at the boy quietly working, before turning around, preparing to go back down the stairs and sit with Ike, when of course, the doorbell had to ring, scaring the shit out of Stan, who cursed quietly before remembering himself and turning back to see that Kyle had stopped working and was now staring in his direction.




Stan swallowed and stared back at his ex-best friend, thinking it was quite disconcerting to have those green eyes looking at him without any kind of recognition at all. After a few seconds, it grew kind of awkward, just staring at each other, and Stan thought he might have to start a conversation, if only to relieve the awkwardness, though he would never have started one otherwise.

"Uh... hi?" Stan said, cringing when his voice came out higher than normal. Kyle just blinked at him slowly, not offering any sign that he was planning on returning the sentiment.

Stan coughed uncomfortably, knowing he was showing weakness by averting his eyes, but not being able to stand Kyle's blank gaze for one more second.

"Um... your mom said I should come up to say hi and that dinner would be ready in a bit," Stan said slowly, glad that at least now he had control over his voice again, but still feeling awkward. "So... yeah."

He raised his eyes to look back at Kyle's face, the redhead giving him one last look before turning back to his desk and continuing his work.

A spark of anger ignited in Stan's chest. So was Kyle just going to ignore him? Well, that was just fine. The redhead wasn't offering anything one way or another, so Stan would just make what he wanted to out of the boy's silence.

He stepped defiantly into the room, not bothering to be quiet about it, but the studying boy didn't show any signs that he had noticed or cared. So Stan looked around at his leisure, taking in all the differences from what he remembered of the room.

All of Kyle's old posters had been replaced with new ones. There was a small one of Einstein, which it looked like someone had taken a black Sharpie to, next to a bigger poster of some death metal band that Stan had never heard of. Above Kyle's desk, was a large black poster with the words Got Genome? in white, which Stan puzzled over for a second, before turning to a poster of Gwen Stefani, next to another of the Transformers movie.

They all seemed pretty random, like they had just been slapped on to the wall, excepting the genome one, but Stan dismissed it and moved on to Kyle's bed. Plain green sheets and comforter, slightly darker than Kyle's eyes, but even more interesting was the picture, framed on the small table next to the bed. It was of Kyle and Kenny, the blonde's left arm slung around Kyle's shoulders while the other arm seemed to trail out of the picture, probably holding the camera. In it, Kyle was wearing the same black clothes he was wearing now, and his eyes held the same devoid expression, though Kenny was grinning manically. It was interesting to Stan, to say the least, to know that Kyle acted the same alone with his friends as he did in front of everyone else at school.

On the desk by Kyle's computer was another framed photo, this one of Kyle and his family, Ike's shorter arms wrapped around his big brother. And still Kyle's face held no expression.

On the other side of the room, a large bookcase took up the majority of the space, with a few other picture frames, most of Kyle and his family, or Kyle and Kenny, even one of Craig and Tweek. There was one of a younger Kyle, sitting smiling with little Ike, probably from back in the fourth grade, but besides that, there were no other pictures as evidence of Kyle's past. Nothing showing Cartman or Stan himself.

Stan was so engrossed thinking about this that he failed to hear the loud steps coming up the stairs until the person was finally in the room with them.

"Oh, so you are here."

Stan whipped around and came face to face with Kenny, the blonde glaring a hole right between Stan's eyes.

What the--? What was Kenny doing here? And right now?

Suddenly, Stan felt guilty, as if Kenny's presence there just made it all the more wrong for Stan to have stepped into the room uninvited. And Kenny acted like he knew that too.

"Hi?" Stan tried, before mentally smacking himself. What was he being such a pussy for? But Kenny was already back to ignoring him, just like if they had been in school and stepped into the room, shrugging off his jacket and tossing it to the side.

"Jesus, Kyle!" the blonde exclaimed, moving up behind the redhead and resting his arms on his shoulders. "Finished with homework already? What are you up to now?"

"Science," Kyle answered vaguely, speaking for the first time that night. His voice was like a shock to Stan's system, who hadn't heard it since he had been back, hadn't heard it in three years. Now that he realized, Stan had forgotten what Kyle sounded like. And this voice was so similar to what he remembered, but so very different at the same time.

"Figures," Kenny muttered, moving to jump onto Kyle's bed, relaxing against the comforter. "So I was hoping you'd wear that little number we got for you last weekend."

"Which one?" Kyle asked, or at least Stan thought he asked. Because Kyle talked in such a way that made it hard to tell. There was no inflection to it, no emotion behind it. And it was completely blowing Stan's mind.

"You know," Kenny said playfully, turning on his back to look at Kyle upside down, his head hanging off the bed. "The tight black one."

"They're all tight and black," Kyle replied, not taking his eyes off his textbook. And it was at that moment that Stan realized they were talking about clothes, specifically about Kyle wearing clothes, and despite the awkwardness of the two of them completely ignoring him and Stan really not wanting to be there either, he kind of wanted to stay to listen to them talk. But only to hear about the clothes. It had nothing to do with being around his old friends again, or Kyle's voice. Yep, definitely nothing to do with Kyle's voice.

"Yeah, well this one was the best one!" Kenny said, jumping off the bed and pushing past Stan as if the boy wasn't even there, opening Kyle's closet and rifling through its contents.

"Hmm," Kyle responded, pausing in his work to bite lightly at the end of his pencil, before quickly starting up again.

"You're gonna be so fucking hot tonight," Kenny said, voice muffled through the closet, but it still rang clearly enough for Stan to take a double take at the closet where Kenny was no longer visible, before turning back to stare at Kyle, still studiously scratching away on the paper.


"Oh, and I'm bringing along some of your CDs 'cuz Clyde can't be expected to play anything worthwhile the whole night," Kenny said idly, which Kyle just hummed at in what Stan assumed was an affirmative. But wait a minute... Clyde?

"You're going to the party?" Stan blurted out without thinking, quickly berating himself afterwards.

"Was I talking to you, asswipe?" Kenny said, exiting the closet with a handful of black clothing, which he promptly threw on the bed, glaring at Stan all the while.

Which was really starting to become very annoying. Really. Because Stan hadn't done anything! He hadn't even been in South Park for the last three years, and yet Stan hadn't been back for more than a few days and Kenny was acting like he completely loathed him, which just wasn't right.

In fact, this whole picture wasn't right, Stan thought, as Kenny continued to glower at him with fiery blue eyes. They had all been the best of friends at one point, but now, Kenny hated him and Kyle wouldn't even pay attention to him. Hell, even Cartman was acting different than before, all distant and less annoying. He even stayed away from Kyle and Kenny. And Cartman had always loved to rip on Kyle and Kenny, more than any of the others, but not once in the whole three days Stan had been back at school had he seen the three of them come even close.

And it wasn't right.

This whole clique system and friends not being friends with whom they used to be friends with and Cartman being a jock and Kenny hating him and Kyle... everything was all different. And it wasn't supposed to be different. It wasn't supposed to be that way. South Park didn't change.

Except it had. And now, Stan didn't know what to do.

He had left, and he had wanted change. He had actively worked to make himself different than who he had been when he had still been living here. But he had come back expecting the same old thing only to be presented with something he didn't like. Stan had never thought he would miss the old South Park, but at that moment, he really did.

"Boys!" Sheila's voice called, interrupting Stan's thoughts. "It's time for dinner!"

"We'll be down in a sec, Mrs. B!" Kenny called back, turning away from Stan and going back to the clothes on the bed. Kyle started putting his things away, and Kenny started up again about whatever outfit he wanted to wear, but Stan was no longer paying attention.

He stepped out of the room and took a few seconds to breathe, ignoring the voices coming from behind him.

So South Park had changed. But Stan had changed as well. And he could deal with whatever South Park decided to throw at him. After all, he was the one that had left. He knew how to deal.

And as Stan determinedly swept his bangs out of his eyes and started to walk down the stairs, he really believed that.

Dinner had to have been one of the most awkward affairs of Stan's life, and that was including the time his mother had walked in on him and Victor when they had been trying out those new bonds, which had really sucked since his mom had really thrown a fit and it had taken forever to get those knots out, with her standing there watching the whole time. Or at least, he assumed she had been watching, as he had been blindfolded at the time. Which was even more mortifying, as now his mother thought he had been the hypothetical bottom in the relationship, which wasn't true. Victor had let him top... once or twice. Which wasn't the point since his mother shouldn't know anything about his sex life to begin with.

But even still, that situation felt like a cakewalk compared to the disaster that was dinner. Just the seating arrangements had been enough to make Stan uneasy. Whereas he would have preferred to sit next to Ike, the younger boy was sitting next to Kenny on the other side of the table , Stan was stuck in between his parents while Kyle's parents were at either end of the table. His only consolation was that at least he wasn't sitting next to Kyle, who was on Kenny's other side. At least with Kenny, Stan knew where he stood, whereas Kyle was still a complete mystery.

Conversation had been strained to say the least. It would not bode well for him with his mother if he acted friendly to Ike in one instant, distant to Kyle and Kenny in the next, then polite to Mr. and Mrs. Broflovski right after. So Stan had tried the no talking at all approach, but that hadn't really worked either when after a few minutes of silence his mother had glared silently at him over her plate of kosher food. So really the whole dinner had been doomed from the start.

It had taken a few awkward silences and some tense conversation attempts before Stan had realized that the perfect solution was to always have something stuffed in his mouth whenever the conversation was directed at him. His mother had given him a look when she had caught on to his plan, but had been unable to say something without bringing the table's attention to it. The only problem with Stan's strategy was that he was forced to eat more food in one meal than he normally would have, though each bite was a testament to his willpower, and his stomach protested harshly against the unusual treatment.

However, it worked for the most part, seeing as one of his parents would have to answer for him whenever a question was aimed at him from one of the Broflovksi parents, though their answers caused some amount of embarrassment on his part.

It was even more awkward to listen to his own parents ask after Kyle, and to a lesser extent Kenny and Ike, and have the boy answer in that solemn voice of his. Kenny was more enthusiastic in his replies, charming Stan's parents quickly with his friendliness and humor. The blonde weaved elaborate tales and would often turn to Kyle for affirmation for a certain part of his story, which the redhead gave. Always. He even had Ike laughing, who had been nothing but quiet and polite the whole evening.

Stan was the only one who didn't join in with the liveliness, though Kyle's involvement never ranged more than a few words, stoic as he was in his expression, never cracking a smile. Stan's parents didn't seem to know what to make of him, which Stan was grateful for. At the very least, his mother wouldn't get on his case for not making friends with his old best friend.

However, the real difficulty had come when Mr. Broflovski teasingly asked whether Stan had had a girlfriend back in San Diego, causing Stan to choke on his mouthful of food and his parents to go quiet.

Kenny had smirked at him from across the table, and while Stan normally would have taken the time to glare back at the other boy, he forced himself to ignore it and swallow down his food to answer, fearing what his parents would say in the absence of his own response.

"Ah, no, Mr. Broflovski," Stan finally managed, difficult though it was through his coughing fit. "Never had one." And he left it at that.

Or he would have, had Kenny not decided to speak up in remark.

"Oh, really? Well, that's too bad," the blonde had commented in a falsely sympathetic voice that Stan did not buy for one second, though he was sure it fooled his parents. "I guess your boyish good looks were too much for them, huh?"

And at that, Stan did glare, knowing that Kenny was referring to Stan's all American boy next-door looks, which Stan was constantly cursing to the heavens. But Stan had dealt with that. He wasn't just an average everyman mixed up kid anymore. He had a style, he had a personality, he knew who he was. Mostly. So Kenny couldn't really talk.

But just as Stan was about to make an equally scathing but still seemingly innocent comment back to the blonde, Mrs. Broflovski spoke up.

"Oh, well, that has nothing to do with it, I'm sure," she said sensibly. "Kyle hasn't started dating either, caught up in his studies as he is. But I'm sure when the time's right, they'll both find the perfect young girl."

To which Kenny started coughing to cover up his laughter, mocking eyes trained on Stan the whole time.

"Well, actually, Sheila," Stan's mom began and Stan darted his eyes to his mother, horrified that she would actually reveal his preferences to Kyle's parents, especially while Kyle himself was just sitting there. But of course, there was no stopping his mom when she set out to do something, and so the next words out of her mouth were...

"Stan hasn't had any girlfriends because he's gay."

And Stan could have died. The expressions on everyone's faces... well, it was a miracle that Kyle's parents didn't both keel over right there. Kenny was desperately trying to hold in his laughter, and Ike was staring worriedly at his mother, probably wondering if she had died of shock. Even worse was seeing Kyle look up at him and not knowing what that look meant. And throughout the whole thing, Stan's dad had calmly continued eating.

It had taken awhile before the conversation had eased back to the way it was, though Stan kept his head down throughout the rest of the meal to avoid the stares Kyle's parents were sending his way and the smirk Stan knew was imprinted on Kenny's smug face.

It wasn't until the end of the meal that it seemed like Mrs. Broflovski had recovered enough to broach a few questions on Stan's sexuality to which Stan briefly replied that yes, he had had one boyfriend, and no, it hadn't been anything serious, all the while staring uncomfortably down at his plate.

But if Stan had thought that his torment was over once the meal had finished, he was sorely misguided because as Kenny excused himself and Kyle from the table, Stan's mother just had to step in one more time.

"So what do you boys have planned for the rest of the evening?" she inquired, likely trying to act polite and interested like all old people always pretended to be.

" Oh, haven't you heard, Sharon?" Mrs. Broflovski replied. "The boys were invited to a party."

"A party?" his mom asked.

"Oh, yes," Kyle's mom answered. "They have one every weekend. All the kids get together at one of their houses for a little fun. I think it's a great way for Kyle to socialize with his peers. He just spends so much time studying!"

"Well, that sounds nice," Stan's mother replied. "I wish Stanley here would get out more. He just spends all his time locked up in his room."

"Oh, well why doesn't Stan go along with Kyle and Kenny tonight?" Mrs. Broflovski announced, sounding like she was terribly pleased for having thought of the idea.

"What?" Stan exclaimed, glancing up suddenly from the hole he had burned into the dining room table.

Standing across from him, Kenny was sporting a horrified expression, one that Stan was sure he matched. Next to the blonde, Kyle hadn't even lifted an eyebrow, though Kenny's face went through a myriad of emotions before seemingly settling on slightly peeved, though he quickly changed it to innocence personified when the adults turned his way.

"That sounds like a wonderful idea!" Stan's mom exclaimed. "If you boys wouldn't mind Stan tagging along."

"Mom, I don't think that's the best idea," Stan said quickly. "I mean, I haven't been invited." And discounting the fact that Wendy had invited him earlier on, Stan thought his argument was sound enough to get him out of the party. Which he didn't want to go to anyway.

Until Kenny opened his big mouth.

"We'd be delighted to have him, Mrs. Marsh," the lying bastard grinned through his teeth, blue eyes laughing at Stan all the while, making Stan want to slap that expression right off his face. Did Kenny have to be such an ass? Surely, he didn't want to be around Stan anymore than Stan wanted to be around him.

"Wonderful!" the two mothers exclaimed, smiling dotingly at the blonde. Stan felt like throwing up.

"We just need to get some stuff real quick and we'll be right back down," Kenny said, swiftly turning around, pulling at Kyle's wrist as he did, so that the redhead was just one step behind him.

"And take your brother with you!" Mrs. Broflovski called up the stairs after the retreating boys, while Stan fumed silently at his mother. She just had to interfere, didn't she? Why couldn't she just leave him the hell alone?! He was fine the way he was!

"Come on, Stan," Ike said quietly, interrupting his mental rant, while his mother followed Mrs. Broflovski into the kitchen, and his dad followed Mr. Broflovski down a set of stairs leading to the basement.

"I thought underclassmen weren't allowed into the parties," Stan said moodily, barely refraining from blowing up at the younger boy as they walked back into the living room.

"My mom doesn't know that," Ike shrugged. "She thinks it's all just harmless fun. And this won't be the first time she's asked Kyle to drag me along."

"Doesn't she ever ask you if you want to go?" Stan wondered, in a more controlled voice.

"No," Ike said, his control over his voice impressing Stan. "Does your mom?"

"Point," Stan responded, setting himself down next to Ike on the couch. "So what do you do?"

"Kenny usually drops me off at Fillmore's house, and then picks me up when they're coming back," Ike said. "So it ends up working out."

"Hmm," Stan replied, staring absently at the wall above the TV. "Guess, I don't have the same luck, huh?"

"I guess not," Ike said. "But Wendy will be there. And Token. They always are. It's not like you have to spend the evening with my brother."

Stan turned to look at Ike at that last part, feeling kind of guilty for not being friends with Kyle, but not knowing why. Ike smiled at him softly.

"It's okay, Stan," he said, shrugging a bit sadly. "Things change. You don't have to get along with him for my sake."

"That's just it," Stan said. "I can't get along with someone when there's nothing..." And here he trailed off, not knowing how to finish that sentence. "It's like I'm up against a brick wall. Like to him, I don't even exist."

"Yeah," Ike replied. "I know the feeling."

And then they were both quiet. Because what did you say after that?

"Well, it looks like you get on alright with Kenny," Stan finally said, managing not to sound upset at Ike for that.

"Yeah," Ike said. "Kenny's pretty cool. And I can't hate him. Not when he's the only one Kyle will kind of react to. And he's always really friendly."

"Ah," Stan said, keeping it at that because anything more would make him sound like a jerk. After a moment adding, "Just wish I knew why he suddenly hates me."

Ike turned to look at him, but it was plain from the look on his face that he didn't know either.

And that was when Kenny decided to come bounding down the stairs, Kyle, newly dressed up in a sinfully tight black outfit, in tow behind him. Stan stared at the redhead for a few moments, trying to reconcile the sight before him with the Kyle he was used to. It didn't add up.

Kenny had been right though. Kyle was hot. But all it took was one glance up at Kyle's face to break the spell. It didn't matter how good-looking Kyle was, that blank expression would always ruin the effect.

And the thought was kind of sad.

Kenny grabbed a coat for Kyle, shouting to the kitchen that they were heading out.

"Ready, Ike?" the blonde asked with a smile, back to ignoring Stan completely.

"Yeah," Ike said, moving to slip on his own jacket. He looked at Stan expectantly, and the older boy reluctantly pulled himself off of the couch, sweeping a hand through his bangs so that they fell into his eyes.

"You boys be careful," Mrs. Broflovski said, coming into the living room, Stan's mom right behind her.

"You have the house key, right, Stan?" his mom asked, to which Stan promptly stuffed his hands into his pockets, feeling no key there.

"Sure," he said, voice indifferent, though his eyes were narrowed angrily at his mother.

"Well, let's get going," Kenny said, cheerfully, herding Kyle and Ike out the door. Stan trailed behind them slowly.

"Don't stay out too late!" Mrs. Broflovski called after them.

"Will do, Mrs. B!" Kenny yelled back, turning to wave goodbye just as she shut the door.

And then it was just the four of them. Kenny made sure to keep up his pace, talking excitedly to both Kyle and Ike, and doing a very good job of pissing Stan off more. He didn't even pause to make any insulting comments, which Stan thought was unfair, because there was plenty he wanted to say to Kenny, none of it nice.

It took less than five minutes to get to Fillmore's house, and Ike was left waving goodbye from the doorway, once again smiling encouragingly at Stan, who continued to sulk in silence as he followed after the two boys.

Stan was at a far enough distance that he couldn't readily hear what they were talking about, but he kept watching as Kenny would wave his arms around to illustrate whatever he was trying to say or touch a hand to Kyle's shoulder or bump his hip playfully against Kyle's.

Jesus, Stan thought. Did Kenny ever stop touching Kyle? He was acting like they were lovers or something. And wasn't that a horrendous thought, which Stan quickly tried to erase from his mind, though it was a lot harder than he expected.

Kyle was not dating Kenny. He just wasn't. And Stan kept telling himself that until he realized that they were nowhere near the neighborhood where Stan remembered Clyde's house being. It wasn't until Kenny rang the doorbell on the house in front of them and he heard a loud crash followed by a muffled "Jesus Christ!" that he recognized Tweek's house.

The door opened to reveal Craig flipping them off, though he stopped when he noticed Stan in the background. He raised one black eyebrow.

"What's he doing here?" Craig asked, blue eyes watching Stan with only mild interest.

"Ugh, don't even ask," Kenny responded. "You guys ready to go?"

"Tweek dropped the coffee pot," was Craig's answer, opening the door wide enough to allow them entrance, raising another eyebrow when Stan didn't move. "You coming in or not?"

"Whatever," Stan muttered, slouching into the house moodily. He jumped as Craig snapped the door shut behind him, darting his eyes to the other boy, who was staring back at him with something like amusement dancing in his eyes. Stan was only slightly disconcerted.

Craig turned and followed after Kenny and Kyle, who had already disappeared into the kitchen. He stopped when he realized Stan wasn't following and stared back at him, until Stan grudgingly moved forward.

The kitchen was a mess, but Tweek was even more so, scrambling around in a frenzy as he tried to clean up the dark black liquid and cutting his fingers on the shards of broken glass in the process.

"I see that the folks aren't home," Kenny commented idly, watching as Tweek slipped on the floor and fell onto his ass. Craig flipped him off before pushing past him to get a dishrag from the sink and moving over to help Tweek up.

"Dumbass," he told Tweek, kneeling down to scoop up the rest of the glass with the dishrag, tossing the lot into the trash before pulling another dishrag out of a random drawer and using it to mop up the rest of the coffee.

"D—don't do that!" Tweek cried, tugging at his hair in anxiety. "You could cut yourself and bleed to death and then I'll get sent to jail for murder!!"

"Dude," Kenny said to Tweek. "You wouldn't get sent to jail, you'd go straight to the electric chair."


"Shut up," Craig said as he tossed the soiled cloth into the sink and turned on the faucet to rinse it out. Kenny just laughed.

"They're going to send me to the chair!" Tweek muttered, left eye twitching.

"It'd take a lot more than your average murder to get you the death sentence, Tweek," Kyle said.

"Nng," was Tweek's response.

"Come on, Tweekers,' Craig said, grabbing one of Tweek's wrists and dragging the blonde out of the kitchen. "Let's clean up your cuts."

"But—but!" Tweek cried.

"Get him some new pants while you're at it," Kenny said, trailing after the two boys. "Something sexy!"

Which left Stan alone with Kyle in the Tweak family kitchen. The redhead turned to stare at him with his blank eyes, making Stan shift uncomfortably. Stan turned his head away, gazing across the room at the toaster, but still feeling Kyle's stare burn into the side of his head. He felt himself flush and his stomach started to churn nervously, just making Stan feel all the worse. It was another few moments before Stan heard Kyle slowly walking away, and he released the breath he hadn't realized he was holding.

Well, that was weird.

Feeling awkward standing alone in Tweek's kitchen, Stan moved back to the living room and waited quietly by the door, wondering why Kyle had stayed behind if he was just going to stare at Stan then leave.

It was a while before the group came down the stairs again, Tweek significantly more calm than he had been before, though he was still shaking nervously as usual. His fingers were covered in bandages, but he looked okay overall, sporting a new pair of jeans that weren't covered in coffee and a shirt that looked like someone else had buttoned up for him.

"Oh, god!" Tweek said when he noticed Stan standing by the door, but his outburst went unanswered as the others prepared to leave. Stan cocked his head to the side, curious as to Tweek's reaction, but followed the others silently out of the house and down the street, finally headed towards Clyde's.

Halfway there, Tweek suddenly stopped and cried "My coffee!" to which Craig flipped off saying, "We'll get you some at Clyde's."

"But—what if he has bad coffee?" Tweek worried as they continued down the block. "What if it's so old that the food bugs have gotten into it and I get poisoned and die?!"

"Well, look at it this way," Kenny offered. "At least, you'll get out of your death sentence for murdering Craig."

"Gah!" Tweek replied.

"Food bugs aren't poisonous," Kyle said, though Stan wasn't sure Tweek heard over the fuss he was making, pulling at his hair and cursing.

So really, it was somewhat of a relief when they finally got to Clyde's house, Kenny walking right in without so much as a knock, though Stan conceded it would have been pointless, taking into account the heavy bass that was coming from inside.

The second Stan stepped in the door he was lost in a mass of students, which was strange seeing as the senior class wasn't that big. Or maybe it just seemed that way because the lights were low and the air was stuffy and smelled like beer and smoke.

Stan squinted his eyes and peered around, but Kenny had already disappeared with the others in tow. He surveyed the people around him, recognizing that most of the smoke was coming off from the side where the goths had taken up, which was surprising, what with them being at the party at all. But Stan shrugged it off as another of the oddities that was part of the "system" and moved on.

Stan noticed the Mole smoking nearby, lounging while still managing to look pissed off, while Damien shoved his tongue down Pip's throat to the side. Stan blinked at the sight for a few moments before realizing that Gregory was just a few feet away, holding a glass of something and talking to a trio of girls that Stan was sure did not even go to the school.

In the middle area, a group of girls were dancing, though Stan noticed Butters amongst them, so he assumed that the cheerleaders were currently holding possession of the dance floor. That is until he noticed Cartman off to the side sucking face with a girl he recognized as part of the squad, which promptly left Stan gagging and hurrying off in the direction he assumed was the kitchen.

Only to be intercepted by Wendy along the way.

"Stan!" she yelled, struggling to be heard over the music, though she was still smiling. She wrapped her hand around his upper arm and pulled him into a corner, where Token was leaning against the wall, slowly drinking a beer.

"So you decided to show up," Token said, leaning close to Stan in order to be heard.

"My mom made me," Stan replied, rolling his eyes.

"Lame," Token said, going back to sipping from his bottle. Wendy stood on Token's other side, taking a sip from the glass of whatever she was holding and making a face as she swallowed.

"Is this all you guys do?" Stan asked, after a few minutes of watching them drink and gaze at the crowd of people dancing.

"Yeah," Token said. "Why?"

"Nothing," Stan replied, fighting the urge to sigh. This had to be the lamest party he'd ever been to, and that was saying something, considering he'd been to some really bad ones back in Long Beach when he had been dating Bobby.

His first and only boyfriend had seen to it that Stan had been to every party Long Beach had to offer, whether it was bound to be good or not. And they had made out in practically every place imaginable.

The nice thing about Bobby was that he was full of life. Energetic, sweet, honest. And it had been that honesty that had ultimately led to their break up. Though it had been fun while it lasted. But that's when Stan decided he never wanted another boyfriend. And he had stuck to that thus far.

That had been a few good months before Stan had moved to San Diego, so there had been plenty of more time to experiment, so by the time he moved, he had figured himself out. Sexually anyway.

Then he had been more careful with who he chose for a partner, that is until met Victor, after the older teen had thoroughly reduced one of Stan's friends to nothing more than a shivering wreck. And that's what Stan had liked about him. Victor had a single-mindedness about him that Stan admired. He had little regard for authority, and he enjoyed playing mind games. Which made for some really awesome sex. In short, Victor was totally psychotic, but Stan hadn't minded. In fact, he loved how Victor only used him for sex and then wanted nothing else to do with him. Because that's what Stan had wanted. Sex without the complications.

Yep, those were the good days, Stan thought, sighing again as he surveyed more of the general atmosphere around him. Lame lame lame.

On his right, Thomas seemed to be sporting a bloody nose, though where he got it, Stan wasn't sure since all the jocks seemed to be pretty much wasted. And there wasn't a trace of Clyde, probably screwing some cheerleader out of her mind, or someone worse. And every few seconds Stan would catch a glimpse of some girl he'd never seen before which only reinforced his idea that there were outsiders at the party.

"Ugh," Stan mumbled, knocking his head back against the wall behind him. This was sure to be hours of pure hell.

"Why don't you dance?" Token suggested after a moment, to which Stan pointedly stared.

"No," he said, leaving it at that.

Token shrugged.

"Why don't you?" Stan retaliated.

Token laughed.

"With who?" he asked, amused.

"Take your pick," Stan said, waving a hand around at the drunken shenanigans around him. No insult to Token or anything, but it's not like anyone realized who they were making it with in the first place.

"Dude," Token replied. "Do you know where some of these girls have been?"

"Around?" Stan guessed.

"More like buried under," Token stated.

Stan wrinkled his nose.

"That can't be hygienic," he said.

"Tell me about it," Token replied.

"What are you guys talking about?" Wendy interjected, actually moving her body between theirs and leaning in close. Stan smelled the alcohol on her breath, but at least she wasn't slurring or anything.

"Nothing," Stan said at the same time that Token replied, "The drunken whores who go to our school."

Stan stared incredulously at the other boy, wondering what possessed him to say that. To Wendy. He couldn't be drunk already, could he?

But Wendy just blinked at him a few times before nodding.

"Yeah," she said.

And what the hell? Was she already that drunk or did she really not care? Stan knew Token had always been pretty upfront, but you didn't just say things like that to a girl. To Wendy. Who had always been a devoted feminist.

But the two of them seemed content just to lean back and get slowly more drunk. And do nothing. The whole evening.

"Jesus," Stan muttered, turning his attention back to the makeshift dance floor. Only to drop his jaw in shock because right smack in the middle of the room was Kyle. Dancing. Stan was pretty sure his heart had just stopped, but when he didn't fall over after a moment and the scene didn't change before him, he had to concede that he was still alive.

And Kyle was still dancing. With Kenny, by the looks of it. And Craig and Tweek. In fact, they were all just like one big dancing orgy. Which Stan refused to think was hot. Even when Kyle turned to face Craig, Tweek draped over his back with Kenny right behind him in some kind of Kyle/Tweek sandwich. Especially not when Kyle lifted his hands to Craig's shoulders, so that they could move even closer. Weren't they close enough already?

"Hmm, seems like they've started," Wendy commented, and Stan turned to see she was also watching the quartet.

"What?" Stan said, looking back at the group.

"Dancing," Wendy said. Obviously, Stan thought.

"They do this every time?" he asked.

"Mm-hmm," Wendy replied. "Always starts with the four of them all together. Then they'll move into pairs. Switch it up a few times before Kenny starts to move in outside the group."

And as Stan continued to watch, he saw that she was right. Kenny separated from the group with Kyle, while Craig continued to dance with Tweek. Then Kyle took off with Tweek in the direction of the kitchen, while Kenny dragged Craig in close. After the two came back, Kenny stole Tweek for a dance, and Kyle was left with Craig.

And each passing moment left Stan feeling steadily worse, though he couldn't seem to tear his eyes away from the scene, stuck to it with some kind of morbid interest, until finally he had had enough.

"I need a drink," he muttered, dragging himself off the wall towards the kitchen. Which was relatively clean compared to the rest of the house. The sign of a really lame party in Stan's opinion.

"Where the..." Stan mumbled, rifling around in search of something that would offer a good buzz, so preoccupied as he was that he didn't notice the entrance of another person until they spoke.

"Looking for something?" And Stan whirled around to see Craig, damn him, once more staring at him with amusement in his eyes.

"Maybe," Stan replied.

"Guess it's not coffee," Craig said, moving further into the kitchen while he gestured at the coffee maker, the only visible liquid in the room.

"Obviously," Stan said, moving aside as Craig headed for the fridge, opening the freezer and removing two bottles, before offering one to Stan.

"Just need to know where to look," he said when Stan did nothing more than blink at him. "It's not frozen."

"And just why aren't you hating on me?" Stan asked, finally taking the bottle, surprised that Craig was right and it actually wasn't frozen, as if someone had put it in only a few minutes ago.

"Am I supposed to be?" Craig countered, pulling out another beer before closing the freezer.

"Kenny is," Stan said, twisting off the cap and taking a drink, grimacing at the taste. Oh well, it'd have to do.

"And where does it say that I have to do the same as Kenny?" Craig asked, pulling off the caps on the other bottles.

"Isn't he the leader of your so called group?" Stan scoffed.

"So that means I have to hate you just because he does?" Craig said, raising another eyebrow at Stan. "I could care less."

And with that he took off, bottles in hand. Stan stayed behind for a while longer, staring at the spot that Craig had vacated. So what did all that mean?

Stan wondered at it for a moment before remembering that there was still a party going on beyond the kitchen walls and groaning. He took a large gulp from his bottle, grimacing once again at the taste before heading back into the crowd, weaving through the masses until he was back in the corner, leaning against the wall between Token and Wendy.

Out on the dance floor, Kenny was still living it up with Tweek, and Stan searched awhile before he found Craig and Kyle, sitting remarkably nearby to his stretch of wall, Kyle staring blankly out into the crowd while Craig knocked back his beer. Kyle had his own bottle in hand, which he sipped at every so often, seemingly more for something to do than out of any actual interest in drinking.

Stan wondered what was going through his head as he sat there. If he was as bored out of his mind as Stan was. Or if he was actually enjoying being there.

After a few seconds, Craig noticed Stan watching and stared back. Though, if he was trying to be intimidating it wasn't working, as Stan kept on looking. However, another few seconds of their staring match suddenly had Craig smirking, and suddenly Stan didn't know what to think. Because Craig was kissing Kyle. And Kyle didn't seem to be objecting. In fact, the redhead brought his arms up to encircle Craig's neck, bottle still in hand, which, as it had earlier on the dance floor, only made more room for Craig to get closer to him.

The bottle slipped from Stan's hand. He stared down as the liquid quickly spread across the carpet, soaking his shoes. From his right, Wendy had exclaimed and started talking to him, but the words didn't register in Stan's mind as he continued to stare at his spilled drink.

Finally, Token clamped a hand onto his shoulder, breaking Stan out of his daze, who looked up into the black teen's concerned face.

"You alright, man?" he asked.

Stan stared back at his fallen beer once more before nodding and looking back up.

"Yeah," he said dully, turning back to where Kyle was still latched onto Craig, the two of them seemingly enjoying themselves immensely.

"Ah, so they're at it again," Token said when he noticed where Stan was looking.

"I didn't know they were dating," Stan said in the same dull voice.

"They're not," Token said. To which had Stan snapping his eyes right back to his friend.

"Wha-?" he said.

"At least, not that I know of," Token replied, shrugging. "But once Friday comes around, they start going at it. Though, they don't do it the rest of the time, I don't think."

"Maybe, you just don't see it," Stan said, eyes trained once again on the two boys making out, even though watching them made him ill.

"Maybe," Token said, dismissing it.

But Stan continued to watch. After a few moments, Kenny and Tweek stopped dancing and went over, and Kyle and Craig promptly stopped kissing, Tweek joining them on the couch while Kenny headed off to a gaggle of people on the other side of the room.

Kyle and Craig didn't start up again though, and Stan watched them closely the whole time, until the three of them took off to the kitchen again, and Stan lost sight of them. However, he did see Kenny dancing it up with some girl for a bit before leading her up the stairs.

It seemed like only a minute later when the trio got back from the kitchen and settled back on the couch, Kyle in between Craig and Tweek. The blonde was rapidly sipping at a mug that was most likely more coffee, twitching as he glanced quickly around at the room. He shook even more when he finally noticed Stan staring, his shudders growing so violent that Kyle seemed to take concern and wrapped a hand around one of Tweek's wrists in order to keep his friend from dropping his drink.

Tweek turned to look at Kyle, and the next thing Stan knew, he was witnessing his second makeout scene of the night featuring Kyle.

Tweek was still visibly shuddering as he pressed his lips against the redhead's, his hands cradling the mug held between Kyle's own.

Stan once again went through a rapid steam of emotions, though this time, Token and Wendy took no notice, and Stan was forced to assume that this was just another normal circumstance of the weekly house party.

As for Craig, he seemingly took no notice, though since Stan's gaze was morbidly fixed on the scene, he finally caught the quick glances Craig would throw at his friends next to him. If he was bothered at all that Kyle was now kissing Tweek, he hid it well because once again, the only reaction Stan got from the teen was amusement when Craig caught Stan staring again.


Craig made no move to join the two teens going at it beside him, and eventually Kyle and Tweek seemed to lose interest in each other and stopped. Tweek went back to sipping rapidly at his coffee, glancing around, just as nervously as before, though when he caught sight of Stan again, he didn't jump in surprise, just looked quickly away.

And after that Stan lost interest, the rest of the night passing in a blur with him making idle conversation with Token and Wendy, both who never seemed to drink enough to just fuck off.

Stan wasn't sure how long he stood there staring absently into the crowd, but suddenly Kyle was in front of him, blank green eyes trained right on him.

"Hey," he said, making sure he had Stan's attention. "We're leaving."

Token and Wendy watched quietly, not offering any input at all, which Stan really kind of needed at the moment.

"Oh," he said, just staring at Kyle. "Okay." And he pushed off the wall, barely bothering to lift a hand to Token and Wendy in farewell.

Stan followed the redhead to the front door, pausing outside when he noticed Craig carrying Tweek on his back, the blonde seemingly passed out.

"Can we leave now?" Kenny said irritably, glancing at Stan before turning away and heading down the street, back to Tweek's house. Stan followed in silence, just watching when they said farewell to Craig and Tweek at the house, no prolonged goodbye at all, though Kenny did make some passing jokes about Tweek's state of conciousness.

Then it was back to Fillmore's to pick up Ike, who asked cheerily, if somewhat sleepily, if they had had fun, to which Kenny responded energetically and Kyle just generally affirmative.

"Yeah," Stan offered quietly when the younger boy glanced at him curiously, not even having the energy to put any emotion behind it.

They made it back to Kyle's house without further inquiry, where Kyle's dad was waiting up for them, though he made no comment about the party at all, just offered to give Stan a ride home. Which he accepted, too out of it to attempt walking.

Kenny said goodbye as Mr. Broflovski put on his coat and left, somewhat surprising Stan who'd figured he'd stay over. Though the feeling passed quickly to be replaced with tiredness once again.

"Night, Stan," Ike said. "See you at school."

"Night," Stan replied, more of an automatic response than anything else. He watched as Ike went up the stairs, before turning to Kyle.

"Bye," he said, not really knowing why and not staying behind to see if he got a response or not. He just followed Mr. Broflovski out to his car and got in, staying quiet for the whole ride back to his house, though he remembered to thank him at the last moment before he got out.

The door had been left unlocked for him with a note from his mom on the table nearby, reprimanding him for forgetting his key and telling him to lock up, which Stan did numbly before walking up the stairs to his room and crawling into bed, not even bothering to get undressed.

Stan groaned and rolled over, blinking tiredly as he stared up into the darkness of his room. His body was aching all over, confined as it still was in the clothes he had worn for the night. He turned his head to the right, staring at his clock for a minute until the numbers actually registered in his mind. He groaned again when he realized that it was only two thirty, and he had barely slept for an hour and a half. Not nearly enough, Stan thought, especially with the night he had just had.

Stan shifted uncomfortably on his bed, feeling every sore part of his body that was screaming to be released from the tight clothing. He sighed in annoyance, rubbing a hand across his eyes then promptly cursing when he realized just how much his eyes were stinging and that he was still wearing eyeliner.

"Godammit," he muttered to himself, sitting up reluctantly, his body protesting the movement. Stan closed his eyes for a moment, trying to ease the sting, before giving it up as a lost cause and standing, shedding his clothes tiredly as he made his way to the bathroom.

It took a good ten minutes to clean the crap off his eyes, and another five of using way too many eye drops before he felt that at least he wouldn't go blind. Then he slowly went back to his room, changing into some boxers and pajama bottoms that had somehow survived his image change over the years before standing in the middle of his room, staring blankly at the curtain covering his window.

He rubbed idly at his arm, moving back to his bed before changing his mind and turning to his computer. Despite how tired he was, the bed just didn't seem that inviting. However, the computer seemed to be utterly useless too, and Stan sighed in annoyance, knowing that he was restless, but not wanting to think about why.

It was then that Stan realized the dull ache in his stomach and figured now was as good a time as any to finally eat. It wasn't like any of that kosher food he had consumed before had counted.

So he quietly made his way down the stairs, listening to the snores coming from his parent's room down the hall and rolling his eyes. Adults.

The kitchen seemed like a foreign place at night, but Stan didn't bother turning on the light, just moved silently to the fridge and poked his head in side. The bright light blinded him for a second before his eyes adjusted and soon he was shuffling things around, contemplating what he was in the mood for.

He picked up a container, opening it curiously before dropping the whole thing in disgust when the smell reached his nose.

"Ugh," he proclaimed, moving over to turn on the kitchen light and rummaging around in the cabinets for something to clean up the mess with. It took him awhile as the kitchen really wasn't his domain, considering just how often he ate anything in the house to begin with, but he was soon back at the fridge, floor spotless once more, pulling ingredients out left and right when he finally settled on what he wanted.

He quickly washed his hands, his mom's cookbook already opened to the page he wanted, and started cutting the red potatoes he was sure his mom was saving for some occasion, but didn't really care about at the moment. He rinsed them, placing them in a small glass casserole dish his mom rarely used, adding olive oil and some other spices, counting himself lucky that he had found his mother's saffron, which looked like it had never been used.

The whole lot went into the oven, which Stan had already preheated, before he got started on the chicken breast, rinsing it off and cutting off as much fat as he could manage, adding salt, pepper, paprika, basil, and some other random spices, covering the pan before setting it to slowly cook.

Last was the broccoli, which Stan steamed in a pot with some water and butter, before he set about putting things away and cleaning up a bit, just waiting for the rest to cook itself.

It was about another twenty minutes before Stan was able to taste the fruit of his labors, and he poured himself a glass of water, finally sitting down to eat, which took a lot less time than it did to make the whole thing. Still, Stan enjoyed every minute of it, not even grumbling when he had to wash up, though he snatched a few strawberries to munch on, before retiring up to his room.

But then, he was faced with that restlessness again, and it was barely four thirty. It was still dark outside.

Stan lay on his bed for wont of anything better to do and stared up at his ceiling, trying not to think about everything that had happened last night, though he unwittingly kept focusing on it.

Kyle kissing Craig. Or Craig kissing Kyle. Or, dammit, them kissing each other. And obviously liking it. If they did it half as often as Token claimed they did. Which Stan didn't really want to think about. Also, Tweek. Which really. What the hell? But mostly Stan was focusing on Kyle and Craig. There was more there than there had been with Tweek. And anyway, Craig has more control. Tweek was just a spaz going along with his friends. Maybe. The whole thing was just plain weird. That whole group was weird. The three of them acting like that...

And just when had they realized they were gay? Were they even gay in the first place? Or just messing around?

Which was even more to think about because it seemed like there were a lot more gays in South Park as well. Unless they were all just fooling around, which Stan didn't dismiss right away, knowing South Park. Which he didn't. Not anymore. Since South Park had evidently decided to start fucking itself up and everyone else along with it.

Which only made Stan wonder what else Kyle and Craig got up to, which did nothing for his restlessness, only increasing it exponentially.

And that wasn't something Stan really wanted on his mind, though now that he had thought of it, it wouldn't disappear.

Stan scowled up at his ceiling and turned on his side, cradling one arm beneath his head.

Just what were they thinking, getting up to god knows what in front of everybody, despite the fact that Stan had done a lot worse back in Long Beach, even once or twice in San Diego.

What was Kyle thinking? Was he really that much of a nobody that his whole life revolved around school... and Kenny? And apparently Craig and Tweek too. And just what did Kenny think of that whole thing? Probably glorified in it, Stan frowned, glorified in allowing Kyle to go about... with Craig. Kyle, who was susceptible and accommodating, who went along just because he wasn't enough of a person to do otherwise, who yielded so easily, agreed to whatever, dressed up so deliciously despite the fact that it was obvious it wasn't his thing, only to fall prey to someone like Craig, a douche with crappy hair who took out his frustrations on other people, on Kyle, on his body... and Stan had to stop there because he was going down a road that he didn't particularly like, already restless as he was.

He shifted onto his back once again, but the movement only added to his frustration, only made him more bothered than he had made himself by thinking about what he had been thinking about.

Stan exhaled exasperatedly, blowing his bangs up out of his eyes. He moved onto this stomach, but that only worsened his state, making Stan feel hot and out of place. He groaned, frustrated, and rolled over again, clenching his hands in his sheets and gritting his teeth, determined to not stay in this heightened condition, especially when he had been thinking about Craig. And Kyle.

But as the minutes wore on, and the problem didn't seem like it would be disappearing any time soon, Stan conceded that something would have to be done about it. Though it would be on his own terms.

Stan deliberated for a while before finally making his decision and quickly grabbing his cell off the nightstand, flipping it open and scrolling down his contacts before coming to the name he wanted and calling. It only took three rings before his call was answered, no time for Stan to change his mind.

"What?" the expected growl said in greeting.

"Victor," Stan breathed. Another growl came down the line.

"It's four in the fucking morning, Marsh," the other snarled, though Stan knew he wouldn't hang up. Not yet. Stan held just enough weight to warrant another minute. Though just barely.

"I need something," Stan said, not bothering to beat around the bush. It wouldn't get him anywhere with Victor.

"If you want me to drive around so that I can fuck you while your parents sleep just around the corner, you can forget it. I've got better things to do."

And yet, Victor still didn't hang up, which Stan counted himself lucky for.

"Impossible," Stan agreed. "As I'm no longer in California."

"Parents have you committed?" Victor said, sounding bored. "Finally."

"No," Stan replied, a small smile slipping onto his face. "Just moved back to South Park."

"So what are you bothering me for?" Victor asked, annoyed.

"I was hoping..." Stan breathed, feeling hot cradling the phone so close, "that we could talk for a bit."

There was silence on the other end for a moment before Stan heard a chuckle and what sounded like a lighter being opened, the click only making Stan more uncomfortable.

"Jesus, you're such a fucking slut, Marsh," Victor said, definitely talking with a cigarette in his mouth, the image immediately turning Stan on.

"Mmm," Stan moaned into the phone, his other hand trailing slowly down his torso, dipping underneath his boxers to rub at the skin there.

"Not yet," Victor commanding, voice already knowing and deep. "No touching."

"Not," Stan murmured, bringing his hand up to his mouth to suck on a finger.

"Right," Victor laughed disbelievingly. "You're such a whore for sex, Marsh. Don't lie to me. I know you."

Stan whimpered needily around his finger, not bothering to deny it, knowing that his displays had always been incredibly submissive and wanton, though that had been part of the fun.

"I know you so well that I could have you coming without you even touching yourself."

"Victor," Stan pleaded, rubbing his palm roughly up and down his chest, hips snapping desperately into the air.

"What do you need me for?" Victor responded haughtily. "You're obviously so well into it already. Just fuck your own damn self."

"I need..." Stan whined, digging his feet into the mattress, eyes shut tight, just letting his senses take over, just like each time Victor had blindfolded him and tied him to the bedpost, or whatever else happened to be handy.

"Touch yourself," Victor demanded softly, voice so controlling that Stan immediately snapped to obey, hand rubbing into his crotch, hips bucking up, making Stan shudder.

"Ahn!" Stan cried, making Victor chuckle in return, his voice adding to Stan's arousal, each laugh, each breath taking Stan's pleasure higher.

"You're really gagging for it, aren't you?" Victor asked, voice smirking, even though Stan couldn't see it.

Stan ripped at his clothes, tearing off his pajamas and pulling down his boxers, needing to get at the skin with a desperation that clawed at him from deep in his throat.

The first touch of his hand to his cock was like an explosion, and Stan had to bite his lip to keep from yelling out, and from Victor's sudden laughing, the boy knew what Stan was doing.

"Does that turn you on, Marsh?" Victor asked. "Knowing that your parents are just down the hall? You could be caught any second."

"Uhn," Stan moaned, palming himself and starting to stroke, slowly at first, then building up speed when it wasn't enough to match his worked up state.

"Well?" Victor asked again, slightly impatient, voice rough.

"Yes," Stan breathed airily, lifting his chin up and stretching out his body.

"Good boy," Victor said in the same rough tone. "Now, stop."

And Stan automatically stopped. Though he wasn't happy. He was just starting to work up a complaint when Victor cut him off.

"Shut up," he growled. "Suck."

And Stan's fingers shot to his mouth where he promptly did as told, two fingers moving in and out of his mouth.

"That's right," Victor praised. "Get them nice and wet."

Stan moaned around his fingers, whining when his neglected cock met nothing as his hips pushed into the air.

"That's enough," Victor stated, and Stan pulled his fingers out of his mouth, automatically moving them down to his cock again.

"Wrong," Victor said, stopping Stan's movement again.

"Please," Stan whispered, feeling the burn throughout his body, knowing Victor wouldn't disappoint, though not until he had his fun.

"Slut," Victor sneered, clicking his lighter again.

"Yes," Stan agreed, begging. Anything to get what he wanted.

"Say it," Victor said, sounding bored.

"I want it," Stan replied, biting at his lip once again.

"Yeah?" Victor asked as if he didn't really care what the response was.

"Yeah," Stan said.

"Fuck yourself," Victor finally allowed, and Stan's fingers were already there, probing inside him, making him cry out louder than he would have liked.


"Harder," was the response.

"Yes, yes!" Stan whispered frantically, twisting his fingers inside of him faster. And Victor was still talking, but Stan no longer heard the words, didn't register them in his mind, lost as he was in the sensation, just listening to that voice. Until one word finally punched through.


And Stan did, taking his time coming back down from his high, Victor talking idly all the while, though Stan caught something about how the way he always climaxed was idiotic. Or something. Stan smiled. Typical Victor.

"Next time, don't call Marsh," Victor said. "Unless it's something important. No. Just don't call."

"Yeah, thanks, Victor," Stan replied, out of breath.

"Fucker," the other said before hanging up.

Stan flipped his phone closed, flinging the hand holding it away from him and slumping back against his bed. He stared up at his ceiling, the room still completely dark.

Pulling up his boxers and pajamas, Stan contemplated getting up to clean himself off, but figured that the bathroom was too far away, and he was too relaxed to move. Still, after another minute of doing nothing, Stan shifted, groaning when he realized he was still restless and then cursing himself even more when he realized Kyle was still on his mind.

Monday at school had Stan cursing life once again, his temper flaring every time Craig smirked at him in class or Tweek spazzed out when catching sight of him. And Kenny's continuous rain on his parade only pissed Stan off more, so that when he got called into the counselor's office to look over his transcripts and credits for graduating, Stan was already at his limit.

Lunch was somewhat of a relief, though Stan dropped himself into his seat next to Wendy with more force than normal and moodily began attacking his cheese fries, which should have been more than enough indication that he was out of sorts, but Wendy still had to ask, didn't she? Of course, she did.

"Everything alright, Stan?"

He glared at her.

"I'm guessing that's a no," Token said cheerily, if a bit sarcastically. Stan had to grind his teeth together to keep from biting the boy's head off. After all, that was just Token. He didn't mean it personally. Well, he did, but that's only because he was a rich smartass, and Stan couldn't really fault him for that.

"Stan?" Ike asked, more quietly and with a good deal more concern. Stan felt all the anger rush out of him. He just couldn't stay angry with Ike acting so damn worried about him.

"I'm fine," he answered, pushing away his half eaten fries, which now looked completely unappetizing, his stomach rolling at the thought of what he had just ingested, and instead picking up his coffee and taking a long drink, ignoring it when the liquid scalded his tongue.

"What's up?" the younger boy asked, smiling at Stan with an open face.

"Ugh," Stan replied, slumping down in his seat. "They're making me take gym because supposedly my photography and visual media classes didn't transfer over or some shit."

"Visual media?" Wendy asked, sounding intrigued, at the same time that Token raised an eyebrow and said "Photography?"

"What?" Stan asked.

"Your school had visual media?" Wendy asked again, while Token more sarcastically commented, "You took photography?"

"Yeah," Stan said in reply to both.

"How interesting," Wendy replied. "And it counted as a phys ed credit?"

"Yeah," Stan said, shrugging. "Well, it was kinda involved and whatnot. We got out a lot. Field work, or whatever they call it."

"Wow, you can get away with anything in California!" Wendy exclaimed cheerfully, making Stan narrow his eyes.

"It was also considered an elective," he retorted, gulping down the rest of his coffee.

"And you took photography too? Also for a P.E. credit?" Wendy asked, to which Stan nodded, already opening his water bottle.

"Seriously?" Token asked. "You took photography? Willingly?"

Jesus, could he get over it already, Stan thought.

"Yeah," Stan replied.

"Dude," Token said.

"It wasn't that much of a bust," Stan said defensively. "One of my friends was also in it with me, though he couldn't take a picture to save his life. We'd go out every Friday, the whole class taking pictures of landscapes and stuff, while Dean would click away at a rock as if it was the most interesting thing in the world. And he probably thought so too. So that was entertaining at least."

"Huh," Wendy commented. "I wonder if we could get something like that here. I should talk to Butters about it."

And that seemed to be the end of that, though while Stan was still trying to wrap his mind around why Wendy needed to talk to Butters about anything, the others were already moving on to the next topic of conversation.

"So, how was your weekend, Stan? Did you enjoy the party?" Wendy asked, interrupting his thoughts.

Stan stared at her. Really? Was she really going to ask that?

"Lame," Stan replied in answer to the first question, deciding to just ignore the second. "My mom got on my case for throwing out her spinach casserole, which had gone bad to begin with, so I don't know what she was complaining about."

"Spinach casserole?" Token inquired, raising another one of his finely shaped eyebrows.

"I dunno," Stan shrugged. "Maybe it's some diet thing. But anyway, she was being a total bitch about it, so she had me organizing the basement all weekend."

"Oh, I'm sorry, Stan," Wendy said, though Stan would bet that she really didn't care that much at all.

"Eh," he said, shrugging it off. "At least, I got to talk to Victor before that whole disaster, so the weekend wasn't a total waste."

"Who's Victor?" Wendy asked curiously, and Stan mentally smacked himself, not wanting to have to explain all that. Especially in front of Ike.

"No one," he replied.

"Your boyfriend?" Token questioned.

"Drop it," Stan said, giving the boy a hard stare. But it seemed as if he had caught the table's interest because even Ike was looking at him curiously. Which totally sucked because he really didn't want to get into the whole Victor thing.

So it was with joy that he realized that Cartman had come over to their table, never thinking he'd ever be happy in his life to see Cartman, the boy grinning widely at him with something devious dancing in his eyes, like that was much of a surprise at all. Guess it didn't take much to get the cogs working in Cartman's brain once more.

"What's this I hear about you being forced to take gym again, Stan?" the boy said with glee.

Crap. How had the fatass found out?

"None of you business," Stan replied, turning away from him. However, in the next moment Cartman was wedging himself between Stan and Wendy, quite a feat considering his size.

"Don't be like that," Cartman cajoled. "I'm just concerned, as an old friend should be."

"Concerned," Stan repeated, snorting. "Right."

"But I am," Cartman replied sweetly, greedily grabbing a few of Stan's cheese fries.

"Um, excuse me," Wendy interjected, somewhat forcefully before Cartman could continue. "But what are you doing here?"

"I wasn't talking to you, was I, bitch?" Cartman replied. "So butt out."

"Excuse me?!" Wendy exclaimed. "Need I remind you that you're at our table where you have no right to be."

"Yeah, so fuck off, Cartman," Token added.

"Up yours," Cartman replied without much heat behind it. "I'm here to talk to Stan. Not you. Who also shouldn't be at this table since his GPA is no where near high enough and yet I seem to have noticed a daily reoccurrence in his visits, so why don't you shut the fuck up and mind your own business."

Wendy gaped back at Cartman, obviously lost on how to respond, while Token stared at him with narrowed eyes, though he didn't say anything either. And Ike stayed silent as always, which Stan didn't know if he was grateful for or not.

Though, Stan was quickly coming to realize that this seemed to be a more serious moment than he had thought, as the rest of the cafeteria had their eyes trained to his table, though they were all carrying on in conversation as if they weren't blatantly staring.

Stan sighed.

"What do you want, Cartman?" he asked, fixing his eyes on the boy sitting next to him.

And surprisingly, the other didn't beat around the bush like Stan had expected him to and carry on about being concerned for him.

"Butters was just telling me how he'd heard that you'd run into some problems with your credits and had to take gym again. We both thought it was an awful shame, considering how well you used to play for the team before you left."

"Yeah, and?" Stan asked, ignoring the question about how Butters had found that out to begin with.

"And," Cartman continued, sounding slightly frustrated that Stan couldn't figure out where he was going with all this. "Everyone knows how lame gym is and wouldn't that suck for the newly returned Stan Marsh to have to be reduced to that when he had been well on his way to being the star quarterback for our team. A position now held by myself."

"What are you getting at, Cartman?" Stan said, his annoyance with the other coming through loud and clear. And Stan would really have to work on that. He was already showing his emotions too much as it was.

"I'm just saying that I could get you out of having to take gym..." Cartman replied with glee, his hazel eyes trained fixedly on Stan's face, watching for each twitch, each change in expression, trying to figure out whether he was getting to him or not.

"If?" Stan prompted, knowing there was a catch. With Cartman, there always was. Though he couldn't say that he wasn't interested. Anything to get out of gym class.

"If... you helped me out with the football team," Cartman said.

"What?" Stan asked incredulously, before collecting himself the next moment. "Forget it. I don't play football anymore."

"Aw, come on, Stan," Cartman whined. "Do you really think I'm asking you to be on the team? I thought you were smarter than that. Fags can't play football."

"You're really not helping yourself out," Stan said dryly, only slightly glaring.

"Look," Cartman said, leaning into Stan's personal space. "We need a new manager. And there's no one else to take the spot, unless we got an underclassmen to fill in, which is not going to happen since they're all pussies. And I figured that you'd want to keep your faggy ass out of the gym, since you might be forced to sweat or break a nail."

"And what makes you think I want to spend my time out in the sun all day watching some dumbass jocks run around a field?" Stan shot back.

"So you can check us out, of course," Cartman replied, as if he thought Stan was being dumb if he had to give him the answer to that. "And let me just say that you used to be one of us jocks, Stan."

Stan glared.

"I can get you out of gym class," Cartman reiterated. "And all you have to do is come to all our practices and games and help train the team. It would completely cover your gym credit."

"Yeah? And what makes you so sure?" Stan replied sarcastically.

"I'm the star quarterback," Cartman stated once again, smugly standing and puffing out his chest. "I can make anything happen. Of course, if you want to stay in gym, where you can no doubt play some fabulous dodge ball..."

"Fine," Stan interrupted, more to shut him up than anything else, though just the thought of dodge ball was enough to seal the deal for him.

"Sweet," Cartman said and triumphantly walked away.

"Hey, wait. Cartman!" Stan called after him. "What happened to your last manager?"

"He's out of commission," Cartman replied with a grin. "See you at practice." And with that, he moved back to his own table.

"Hnn," Stan whined deep in his throat, dropping his head to the table with a thud. Already a sinking feeling had emerged in his stomach.

"Wow, you're a fucking idiot," Token commented, to which Wendy exclaimed, "Token!"

A small hand pressed between Stan's shoulder blades, startling him at first before he settled down as he realized it was just Ike.

"Did I really just agree to manage the football team?" Stan asked, somewhat pathetically as Ike started to rub.

"Yeah," the younger boy said quietly, though there was no judgement in his voice, which Stan appreciated.

"Why?" Stan asked, not sure what he was asking about in the first place.

"I dunno," Ike said, continuing to rub between Stan's shoulders in a reassuring way, as if he was really saying "Don't worry too much about it. It'll be okay."

"I really hate jocks," Stan said, voice still muffled by the table.

"Really?" Ike asked, and Stan couldn't be sure, but he thought he could hear something like disappointment in the younger boy's voice.

"Yeah," Stan replied after a moment, though his answer was weak at best and he honestly wondered why.

He was still wondering as he made his way to the field after school.

It'd been a while since he'd even set foot on a field, much less to participate in anything resembling a sport. Already, a strange sense of nostalgia had settled over him, which Stan was really trying not to focus on. He was glad he had given up sports. That wasn't who he was anymore. Yet he couldn't help but feel something as he watched all the guys warming up on the field.

Stan stood off to the side while the coach started the team on some drills, though Cartman still caught sight of him quickly enough and smirked.

Stan sighed and leaned against the wall separating the field from the bleachers. Looks like he was just going to have to wait for someone to acknowledge him and give him something to do. Because he was going to do this, even though his mind was screaming at him not to.

And it had absolutely nothing to do with him wanting to join football again. Nothing. It was just that he had already skipped the gym class he had been assigned to. That was all. Really.

So while Stan continued to convince himself of that, the cheerleading squad filed out to a corner of a field where they set themselves up and started going through their own warm up process. It took awhile for Stan to notice, lost as he was within his own broodings, which was kind of ridiculous seeing how they were right in front of him.

Stan caught sight of Bebe, who he had learned was the squad captain, as well as that girl Cartman had been sucking face with at the party, the memory enough to make Stan sick again. He turned his head quickly and caught sight of Butters, which made him narrow his eyes.

Butters. It was all that little queer's fault that he was in this mess to begin with. If he hadn't gone spouting off to Cartman about Stan's phys ed credits, that fatass wouldn't have tricked Stan into this whole thing. Whatever this thing was. And Stan wouldn't have been all fake nostalgic and other nonsense. And just how did Butters find out about that anyway?

Stan scowled and crossed his arms, hunching back against the wall. He may have decided to do this thing, but he wasn't going to enjoy it. Not in any way. At all.

However, Stan's attention was captured when a loud beat filled his ears, and he looked up to see the squad all mid dance routine, a big boom box resting on the stone wall just a few feet away.

It was just another one of those cheesy mixes, and the girls weren't really anything special, though Stan could slightly see that they carried a certain flair. However, even more interesting was Butters, right in the center of the group. As the only guy, he stood out amongst all the long hair and booty-shorts. A mega-watt grin spread across the blonde's face as he moved, his choreography just slightly different than the rest of the girls. Then they split up into three separate sets of choreography, Butters sticking with the middle group as they added in a bit of gymnastics. Nothing major. Just enough to show that South Park didn't completely suck ass.

It was intriguing, to say the least, Stan thought as he watched Butters come out of a somersault and fall into step with the rest of the squad in complete synchronization again. Of course, there had been plenty of male cheerleaders at Stan's old school, some gay, some not. But to see someone he grew up with in that sort of situation... well, that was an entirely different story.

Stan continued to watch the practice, splitting his attention between the footballers and the cheerleaders, only half interested to begin with, and it was awhile before he was finally approached by the coach and Cartman, the former seemingly not that interested, the latter with a shit-eating grin on his face.

The coach glanced at him once with disdain before turning away, giving Stan a quick rundown of what he'd be expected to do, all while staring out as the rest of the team went through some basic plays. It rankled Stan the longer the coach continued to talk, obviously not thinking much of Stan and his appearance, which only made Stan ignore what he was being told and start plotting out his attire for the rest of the week, wanting it to be extra dark and generally more awesome than normal, if only to irritate the man further. Which called for even more eyeliner so that he could apply darker lines around his eyes.

"Got it?" the coach finally finished, casting a scornful look in Stan's direction.

Stan plastered on a huge fake smile in response, not bothering to reply verbally.

"I'm sure Stan will do great, Coach," Cartman said in a sickeningly sweet tone. "After all, he used to be on the team himself."

"I'm sure," the coach muttered, giving Stan a once over which clearly read that he thought Stan could never even have lifted a ball, before walking back out onto the field.

"Asshole," Stan said once the coach was out of earshot.

"Aw, Stan. I love you, too," was Cartman's reply before he followed after, leaving Stan behind, glowering. And so he didn't notice when another person walked up next to him until there were talking in his ear.

"Well, hey there, Stan!"

Stan jumped, startled, then promptly started cursing, muttering profanities as fast as he could think them up.

"Aw, shucks. Didn't mean to startle you," Butters said, rubbing his knuckles together.

Stan glared.

"You didn't startle me," he grit out.

"Oh, okay. If you say so," the blond replied, staring at Stan for a moment, then beaming a smile that was nearly blinding. "Well, it's great to see you! I was really surprised when Eric said you were filling in as our manager."

"It's only temporary," Stan said, turning his head away.

"Really?" Butters asked, surprised. "I thought Eric said you were doing it to fill in for gym."

Stan grit his teeth again. Jesus, this was really annoying. Of course, he knew Butters didn't mean it, though Cartman was another story entirely, but still.

"Yeah, and?" Stan asked.

"So, don't you need to stay with us for the whole season to get your credit?"

"You won't need me after the other manager comes back," Stan said dully.

"Oh, I dunno," Butters replied. "He might not make it back, and even if he does, we could always use more help."

Stan turned to look at the blond who was staring at him in earnest.

"What actually happened to the last manager?" Stan asked warily. Butters shrugged, looking thoughtful.

"Eric didn't say, but I heard he was messed up real bad," he said with concern.

"Ah," Stan replied, looking out into the field once more, that sinking feeling returning to his stomach.

"Yeah..." Butters said in response, and then they were silent, the sounds of both teams practicing providing background music to their thoughts.

However, after a few moments, Stan started to grow uneasy with what was going through his head, so he grasped desperately for a topic, hoping to steer away from his mental ramblings. His eyes caught on the girls a few feet away, going through their steps slowly to be sure they had them down.

"So, a cheerleader, huh?" Stan asked, not really caring about the answer. But Butters perked up right away, grinning at Stan happily.

"Yeah, it's real fun!" he replied cheerfully.

"Good for you," Stan said.

"Well, thanks, Stan," the blond said, not once dropping his smile. "You know, I was real surprised when I heard you came back. After the way you left and all. But then I saw you, and I was real shocked! 'Cuz you look so different. But then I thought well, we're all different now, aren't we? When we all used to be such good friends. And then I heard about your gym credit and everything, and when Eric said you were going to join us I thought well, maybe we're not all that different after all."

And Butters beamed at him again, which Stan felt should still be really annoying. I mean, what business did Butters have being so damned happy all the time? But Butters had always been like that. And for some reason, that put a warm feeling in Stan's chest, which kind of freaked him out in a way that was totally normal.

"Yeah, I guess," Stan replied, turning back to the field, where the coach was busy shouting angrily at Clyde for some reason or another.

"I hope we can be friends again," Butters said after a moment. "I know Kyle was real sad after you left and then he started acting real funny, but I don't hold it against you or nuthin'."

"Was he?" Stan said quietly, a bit surprised. After all, he knew that Kyle had been upset. Even back then, he had known he was hurting Kyle with everything that had happened. But Kyle was so different now, so uncaring, that it was hard to imagine the redhead as anything other than the unfeeling wall he now was.

Stan wasn't sure he could even remember the way Kyle used to be before this all happened, but no... as he thought about it, an image of Kyle with a bright happy grin appeared unbidden in his mind, green eyes sparkling wondrously at him.

Stan gasped. He remembered that Kyle. That was the Kyle that had triggered it all. And it was unsettling to even dredge up those old memories. Stan roughly shook his head, tuning back into the present where Butters was seemingly carrying on a one-sided conversation, apparently not noticing Stan hadn't been with him.

"—even though they don't really interact much, but I talk with Wendy some, since we're both on Student Council and all, so that might give us a chance to get to know each other again. Oh! Why don't you come to our meeting this Wednesday?!"

And Butters stared at Stan with a hopeful expression on his face, like he really thought Stan would jump at the invitation.

"Uh..." Stan said, trying to get back on topic. What had they been talking about again? Oh yeah, being friends.

"I dunno, Butters. We'll see."

But the blond had such a crestfallen expression on his face that Stan knew he couldn't leave it at that. Damn him for being such a pushover. He sighed inwardly, already annoyed at all this.

"I mean, we'll see each other at practice every day, right?" Stan added on, hoping that would suffice, and immediately Butters lit up.

"Yeah!" the blond said, smiling. It was almost enough to make Stan want to smile back. Almost, but just then Bebe called from over with the others.

"Butters! We need you!"

"Oh, right!" Butters said, blinking before turning to Stan and flashing him another smile. "See ya' later, Stan!" And off he went.

Stan stared after the boy for a minute before dismissing him altogether, sighing outwardly to himself. What was he getting himself into?

It was another two hours before they let out for the day, the sky already a bit orange with the sun about to set, and Stan resigned himself to another half-hour of walking home. He knew what was in store for him the minute he got there, too. And he was right.

As soon as he'd set foot in the door, his mother was upon him, hands on her hips and a frown on her face.

"Where have you been, Stanley?!"

"Sch—" he began.

"Do you realize what time it is?! You can't just come in at whatever time you feel like, Stan Marsh!"

"Like you even care!" Stan bit back.

"And just what's that supposed to mean?" his mother said, in that way that only mothers could. His father was conspicuously absent from the room.

"You never bothered with where I was back in Long Beach. I could have been out all night and you wouldn't have even noticed!" Stan replied.

"Oh, you're so irresponsible, Stanley," his mom said exasperatedly, completely sidestepping what he'd just said.

"Just forget it," Stan growled, pushing past her to go up to his room.

"Where do you think you're going? We haven't finished talking about this!"

"I'm finished," Stan said.

"Don't you take that tone with me, mister. Where have you been this whole time?"

"At school."

"Oh, really? And you didn't think to let me know that you wouldn't be needing a ride?"

"Forgot my phone," Stan said, climbing the stairs, his mom hot on his heels.

"So why didn't you meet me outside and say you were going to stay behind?"

"Didn't have the time," he answered, picking up the pace as he neared his room.

"And why was that? What were you doing, Stanley? Are you fooling around with another boy?"

"No, Mother," Stan flipped out sarcastically. "I'm helping out the football team."

"Wha-- Really?" his mom asked, and she sounded so genuinely surprised that Stan had to stop and turn around to face her.

"It's not like I want to," Stan said moodily.

"Oh, but honey. Do you know how glad I am to hear that?" she said.

"Ugh," Stan said, turning around again. He should have known she would react this way. Of course, she'd want him to join football again. It'd probably get him out of his dark clothes and eyeliner, and then everything would be back to normal and they'd all be one stupid giant happy family. The thought made him want to hurl.

"Wait, but Stan!" his mom called.

"Just leave me alone."

"Stan, I'm not finished," she said, back in bitch mode once again. "I can't just be driving you to school and back all the time, and you really need to be more responsible for yourself, so I've decided to go to work earlier, and you can take the bus."

"The bus?!" Stan exclaimed, whirling around to stare incredulously at his mother, images of Kyle, Kenny, Cartman, and him flashing through his mind. "Are you out of your mind?"

"Oh, Stan, don't be ridiculous. I'm not your chauffeur. You need to get around town yourself."

"So get me a car," Stan said, moving to enter his room.

"No, Stanley. You'll just have to—"

"I am not taking the bus," Stan sneered at her, glaring her down from inside his room before slamming the door in her face.

"Stan?" came the knock on the door. "Stanley!"

Stan shut out her banging, falling back onto his bed and throwing an arm across his eyes, exhaustedly. The next moment, he jumped up again, crying out when he realized that he'd messed up his eyeliner.

Of course, today had to be the day where they had a free period during Sociology, and Stan didn't have anything to distract himself with since he always left his PSP and mp3 player at home. After all, it just didn't fit in with his image.

But now Stan was bored out of his mind, and he'd only been sitting there for five minutes. Around him, friends from mutual groups got together, even Kenny, who was separated from his normal posse, was able to start up a conversation with a few girls from one of the lower circles.

Stan sighed. Neither Token nor Wendy were in Sociology with him, since their schedules were just brimming with advanced classes and electives for the elite, or whatever the hell they did for fun.

Stan drummed his fingers idly on his desk, staring at the black polish that covered his nails... Wait a minute. Stan reached for his bag. Didn't he have a bottle of--?

Stan unearthed his nail polish from the bottom of his bag triumphantly. Ha! He wasn't going to be beaten this time.

He shook the bottle, swirling the contents around for a few seconds, before setting it down and unscrewing the top.

"Heya, Stan!" a voice said from his right, and he looked up to find Butters staring cheerfully down at him. Oh yeah, he'd forgotten the blond was in this class.

"Uh... hey, Butters," Stan replied, turning back to his polish. He spread the fingers of his left hand out on the flat of his desk. Butters sat in the empty seat beside him.

"What? Are you gonna paint over your old polish?" Butters asked, resting his chin on his hands and staring at Stan curiously.

"Might as well," Stan shrugged, only mildly annoyed. After all, the blond had chosen to sit with him instead of his own group, and Stan had wanted to be distracted.

"Well, you shouldn't do that," Butters suggested wisely. "I mean, wouldn't it be better to take off the old paint first?"

"It'll be darker this way," Stan said, glancing up at the blond, who seemed genuinely concerned about the state of Stan's nails. "It's not like I have remover or anything."

"Oh, well, I'm sure we could borrow some!" Butters exclaimed and before Stan could dissuade him from that notion, Butters was up, heading towards a small group of girls at the front of the room. "Hey, Mandy! Do you think we could borrow some--?"

Stan sighed, setting the brush down and resting his chin in his palm, waiting for the other to get back. It seemed like Butters was serious about the whole becoming friends thing. Stan wondered what the rest of the school would have to say about that.

He shifted his gaze to the side and was suddenly looking straight into the eyes of Kenny, glaring at him from amidst the gaggle of girls that had formed around him.

Oh great. What had he done this time? He was nowhere near Kyle or any of Kenny's little gang, and yet the longer Stan stared, the more Kenny seemed to be angry about something.

"Alright, Stan. I got it," Butters said cheerily as he returned, bottle of remover and some cotton balls in hand. Stan, still gazing at Kenny, watched as the boy seemed to grow even angrier, his eyes narrowing into little slits.

"What's up?" Butters asked with concern, laying the items down on Stan's desk and scooting his own closer to Stan's.

"Nothing," Stan answered. "What's up with him?"

"Huh?" Butters questioned, looking to where Stan had gestured.

"Oh, hiya, Kenny!" he waved cheerfully when he noticed the other boy. And Stan watched as Kenny seemingly startled out of his mood, before slipping a grin on and waving back.

"So, let's see," Butters said, picking up the remover and twisting the cap off, but the minute the blond had turned away, Kenny drew a frown again.

Interesting, thought Stan.

"Want me to do it?" Butters asked, and Stan finally broke eye contact with the blond across the room and turned to the one currently sitting next to him. Butters was holding a cotton ball up, already soaked in polish remover.

"I think I can handle it," Stan said with a slight quirk of his lips, taking the ball from the blonde.

"Oh, okay," Butters replied, once again resting his chin in his hands, leaning on his elbows as he watched Stan work. "So, how was it in California? Lots of sun?"

"I guess," Stan shrugged, concentrating on his nails.

"I bet it was real hot all the time," Butters continued, in that way that showed he was probably trying to have a conversation. Stan decided to indulge him since there was nothing else to do, plus, he could see Kenny fuming out of the corner of his eye, and he had an inkling as to why that might have been, not counting the fact that the blonde hated the mere sight of Stan.

"Yeah," Stan replied. "Never snowed once."

"Gee," Butters said. "I can't imagine never having snow."

"You get used to it," Stan said, discarding the used cotton ball and accepting the new one Butters handed over.

"Was it real weird coming back to all the cold?" Butters asked, voice slightly softer as if it was some great big secret.

"A bit," Stan said. "But it's alright now."

"Well, that's good," Butters said with a smile. "I bet you made lots of friends there. Any boyfriends?"

"One," Stan replied, slightly uncomfortable.

"Really?" the blonde said with surprise. "Just the one?"

Stan ignored the slight jibe, knowing that Butters didn't mean it. He was just honestly surprised. But was he really having this conversation? With Butters? How weird was that?

"Wasn't my thing," Stan said, shrugging. "What about you?"

"Oh, I've had a few," Butters answered. "Never from around here. There was this one guy who went to college in Denver. He was real interesting, but kinda mean."

Stan tried to picture that in his head as he set aside the cotton ball, his nails now clean. It wasn't that hard to imagine. Butters seemed like the kind of person to go out with older guys. They were probably all attracted to his naivety, though Stan could also see how they would take advantage of that. Butters was a horrible pushover.

"Huh," Stan responded, just to let the other know he was listening, and stretched out his fingers, knowing he had to wait for a bit before he could apply the nail polish.

"Yeah," Butters said, pausing for a bit before continuing. "So... what about your boyfriend?"

"What about him?" Stan countered, not wanting to get into it.

"What was he like?"

Stan sighed. Looks like he was getting in to it.

"Bobby was... sweet. Energetic. He liked to take me out a lot... to the beach, to parties, anywhere he could think of."

"Sounds nice," Butters said. "What happened?"

"Well... he was also really honest. I mean, really honest. Almost transparent with his emotions. You always knew exactly just what he was feeling, what he was thinking. He never held back. And I guess that was the problem."

"What do you mean?" Butters asked. Stan shrugged, feeling incredibly uncomfortable and grabbed his polish, deciding to start applying, feeling it would give him something to do so that he wouldn't have to look at the other in the eyes.

"I knew he really liked me. A lot. He told me often enough, and it wasn't that hard to miss. And I liked him too. But..."

"But?" Butters prompted.

"But, I guess he felt I didn't feel as much for him as he did for me," Stan said, touching the brush to his nail.

"What?" Butters asked, obviously not understanding. "So he dumped you?"

"He told me that we should break up since it seemed like I was in love with someone else," Stan said, not thinking too much about what he was saying as he carefully applied the black color.

"Well, that's just stupid," Butters said, upset on Stan's behalf.

"That's what I said," Stan replied.

"But, so, you never got another boyfriend after that?" Butters inquired.

"Didn't want one," Stan said. "Didn't feel up to having another guy tell me the same thing."

"Aw... well, that's... that's kinda sad," Butters said, looking down.

"There were other guys," Stan said. "I just never actually dated any of them."

"Whad'ya mean?" Butters asked, looking confused. "Like, you just—"

"We fucked," Stan said bluntly, looking up when Butters didn't say anything back. The blonde was staring at him in shock, like he really couldn't believe that people just did that.

Great, I've traumatized him, Stan thought, quickly recapping the bottle as he let his left hand dry.

"It was mostly with this one guy," Stan said, hoping to reassure the blonde. "I kinda backed down once I started up with him."

It took a minute, but eventually Butters seemed to get over his shock.

"So, you were almost dating him?" he asked.

"Uh... not really," Stan replied. "Besides the sex, we really didn't do much. Though I used to see him a bit since he would terrorize one of my friends."

"Oh? What was his name?"

"My friend? Dean."

"No," Butters smiled. "The guy you would..."

"Oh," Stan realized. "Victor."


But it wasn't Butters who asked. Seems like Kenny had gotten tired of watching them chat from the sidelines and had decided to butt in on their conversation.

"And just who is this wonderful Victor you're talking about?" he inquired, a disarming grin gracing his features as he towered over the two of them. Stan told himself it was not attractive in anyway.

"No one," Stan said dismissively, voice only slightly rougher than normal.

"Can't be no one if you were talking about him so intently," Kenny replied in a smug tone, crouching down in front of their desks lazily as if he was merely resting for a moment and couldn't care less even though he was the one who had disrupted their conversation.

"He's Stan's not-boyfriend!" Butters supplied helpfully, beaming down at Kenny brightly. And, really, could Butters be any less cheerful when he was just providing fodder for Kenny's growing repertoire of things to be used against Stan?

"Stan's not-boyfriend, you say?" Kenny repeated, smiling indulgingly at the other blonde before dragging his malicious eyes towards Stan, his smirk quirking up even further. "That sounds... interesting."

"That's what I thought!" Butters exclaimed cheerfully, a second before Stan's deeper "Fuck off, Kenny."

"Now, that's not nice, Stanley," Kenny replied, mock hurt, and started playing with Stan's bottle of polish, prodding it with his forefinger while Butters nodding ferverently in response to his words, though with much more sincerity. "I'm just trying to get to know you. After all, you've been gone for three years, and there have obviously been a lot of... changes."

Kenny gazed pointedly at Stan's clothes and hair, his sky blue eyes lingering mocking over Stan's eyeliner before quirking an eyebrow at Stan's nails.

Stan stared at Kenny in a quiet fit of rage. He had actually been thinking that it wouldn't be a total drag if he became friendly with Butters, and yet here Kenny was trying to actively mess with Stan's involvement with the cheerleader.

Stan scoffed and rolled his eyes. What had he been thinking? He started packing up, pulling away from the table.

"Thanks, Butters," he all but barked at the blonde who only stared at him in shock.

"Wha-- but Stan! We were having a good conversation! And your nails aren't done yet!" Butters stammered in reply, his eyes starting to glisten with confused unshed years.

"Oh Stan. Don't be that way. If you're uncomfortable talking about a subject, you should just not bring it up. Don't take it out on Butters." Kenny reached to pat the other blonde consolingly.

"It's not Butters I have a problem talking to," Stan grit out, standing before the two blondes in frustration, having had enough of Kenny's whole attitude towards him. "It's just you."

"Kenny?" Butters blinked in confusion, turning to stare at the boy in question.

"I haven't done anything," Kenny defended.

"Bullshit," Stan threw back. " Ever since I've been back, you've gone out of your way to make it known just how little you think of me. And that's fine. Really, I could care less. But if you start interfering with the friendships I'm trying to make--"

"I haven't even gone anywhere near you or any of your friends!"

"Well you sure haven't been very inviting when I'm around," Stan argued.

"I let you come along with my friends to the party--" Kenny said.

"Oh, let. As if it was such a great trial to have me follow you two blocks to a party and ignore me the whole time."

"You are not part of--"

"Your group? Seriously? What would happen if I were to talk to any one of you? Why is it okay for you to talk to me now? Or Butters for that matter? Your whole system is shit, and you know it. And I couldn't care one whit if I wanted to talk to Butters or anyone else that didn't look just like me. Because no one does. And I'm proud of that."

Stan didn't know where any of this was coming from, and it didn't immediately occur to him that he might be causing a scene potentially detrimental to his image. However, none of it mattered in the slightest as just then the bell rang to signal the end of school, and Stan finally tore his gaze away from the current bane of his existence.

"I'm heading to the field. Come on, Butters." Stan pivoted on his heel and started walking off to join the rest of the students rapidly exiting the class.

"Well, hey, but Stan!" Butters called, clamboring after the styled boy. "You never finished talking about Victor."

"Drop it," Stan growled as the boy fell into pace with him, but at Butters' immediate dejection, Stan realized he'd need to start more of a compromise if he actually wanted to make good on having any friends in South Park. He wasn't in California anymore. He needed to remember how to adapt.

"I'll tell you about it later, okay?" Stan said, voice softer, apologetic.

Butters quickly brightened.

"Well, okay!" he smiled. " I'm real sorry Kenny's mad at you, Stan. He's usually really nice to everyone. But I'm real glad you still want to be friends. You know, I think you'd really like it if you came to one of the student council meetings. I think everyone'd really like to hear your opinions on all different kinds of stuff! And I know you're good friends with Wendy. She doesn't always understand what I mean all the time, but I know you could probably explain to her real well. I mean, I know you always dress real nice and all--"

Stan continued to listen with half an ear to Butters' enthusiastic conversation as they strode down the hall, but turned to glance back when he felt the prickling itch of a stare on his back. And it was no wonder as a fuming Kenny tried to burn a hole between his eyes from his position at the entrance to the classroom.

By the end of the week, Stan had adjusted to waking up early every other day to walk to school for morning football practice and then staying everyday after school for more of the same thing. Sadly since his mother had laid down the edict that she would no longer drive him, that meant he had to take the bus in the morning three days out of the week, which totally sucked balls. Stan had suffered the indignity of mixing with the unwashed masses, namely those who were too poor to have a car and didn't have extracurriculars to get up early for. He had struggled with how to not look totally lame and had even contemplated walking all the time, but ultimately decided that his clothes were suffering enough from the snow, and unless he was willing to compromise on wearing some snow boots for the walk (and he really, really wasn't) then he'd better suck it up on the bus. Of course, Butters had eventually wheedled out the info on this humiliation, so the blonde had decided to forfeit driving with Mandy and the other girls in favor of accompanying Stan on those days so as to stick with their new friendship.

Still, that had nothing to do with how Stan was settling into his role as a manager for the football team.

"Jason, if you don't get your ass out on the field right now for warmup exercises, I'm going to stretch you out myself! And believe me, you're not going to like it!"

The boy in gear promptly let out very unmanly yip and hightailed it out of the locker room, for which Stan was very grateful because really? He may have been very gay, but he had absolutely no interest in getting up close and personal with Jason's person. So far, Stan had only had to fetch ice for minor sprains and had been able to avoid the more intimate relations that a trainer would have with the team. However, Stan had had more than enough close personal experience with the boys' filthy towels and the disgusting interior of the locker room. The coach's prejudice towards Stan meant that all of Stan's duties consisted of things like this, stupid chores that were intended to cause the maximum amount of emotional trauma and keep Stan as far away from the coach as possible.

So really, Stan was still adjusting.

Standing in the empty locker room, Stan took a moment to touch up his eyeliner and check his hair before heading out to join the team on the field. They seemed as idiotic as always, though Stan noted to himself where they were lacking strongly and vowed he'd track down Cartman so that they'd be aware. After all, at least he could make sure he wasn't associated with a team that was completely awful. Since he had to be associated with them anyway.

The cheerleaders were already there, practicing off to one side, and when Butters caught Stan looking, he waved enthusiastically, making Stan worry for the survival of his joints. Stan flushed with embarrassment, but didn't turn away, just raised a hand in acknowledgement. He owed Butters that. The teen had really stuck to the whole friends idea with a fervor Stan hadn't been expecting, but that he was learning to feel grateful for. After all, it wasn't like Stan was the most popular guy in school. Not anymore.

But before Stan could lose himself in another potentially regretful memory, Butters (his friend, he told himself firmly) was running towards him, beaming like sunshine.

"Hey, Stan! You're not busy, are you? Only, I've sorta been bragging about you to the girls 'cuz I noticed you always do your nails real well, and Red was wanting to have hers done all pretty." The blonde barely seemed to take a breath as he reached Stan, a look of pure hope on his face, and while Stan really didn't want to have to deal with any more cheerleaders, especially girl cheerleaders, wasn't Butters bad enough (and Stan really had to stop it with the jibes against Butters), he knew that barring an emergency, such as lack of Gatorade or another sprained ankle, he really wasn't needed at the moment. Besides, fashion was of a great concern to Stan, and he should really spread it around to those less fortunate. Also, Butters was trying his hardest to be a good friend to Stan, and the least he could do was this one favor.

"Sure, Butters," he nodded, and the blonde beamed so bright, Stan was blinded by it.

However, one favor (Red's nails) soon turned into two or three, and before Stan knew it, he was painting the whole cheerleading team's nails a tasteful shade of green that also showed off their school pride.

"You're the best, Stan!" Bebe praised as he finished the sparkly detail on her nails that set her apart as captain.

"You really are!"

"You should start a business!"

"Can you do mine with a French tip?"

It was somewhat conflicting for Stan, not knowing whether to be proud that his skills were so good or flustered to be surrounded by so many chattering girls at once, all vying for and demanding his attention, which was strictly focused on the nails in front of him.

"Where did you get so good, Stan?" Bebe asked, asserting her authority over the rest of the girls so that they quieted and Stan could once again think. "You're like a professional!"

"It's just something I picked up," Stan shrugged noncommittally, head bent to examine her nails for anything he might have messed up.

"Stan's real good at lots of things!" Butters piped up happily from his spot next to Stan. "He worked real hard to learn them."

"Just had a lot of free time," Stan said, trying to downplay himself, thinking of the reality of what it had been like in California, and the way he'd had to reinvent himself just to keep from drowning and losing himself completely.

"Oh, don't say that, Stan. You know, if I didn't know you were such a flaming queer, I think I'd be upset that you were trying to impress my girl away from me." All this of course came from Cartman who had somehow sneaked up on the group when Stan was preoccupied. Bebe just rolled her eyes at the jock.

"Guess it's lucky for you I'm such a flaming queer then," Stan replied, finally letting go of Bebe's hand. "Coach need me?"

Cartman snorted in amusement.

"You're kidding, right?" he said. "I just came over to see what was interesting enough to keep our new manager away from us. Not that we need your help."

"I think you're the one that's kidding," Stan said. "You guys need all the help you can get. I've never seen a team that sucked so much in both defense and offense. You'd think you'd be able to get something right, wouldn't you?"


But before Cartman could get into a rant against gays or try to defend the team's skill, the girls started to chatter excitedly, and it wasn't until Stan could make out Bebe's overly powerful captain voice that he realized just what had gotten them all so energized.

"Oh my god, is that Kenny?!"

"Hi, Kenny!"

"Kenny? What's he doing here?"

"Oh my god, he's so good-looking!"

Stan looked over to the edge of the field and sure enough, he could just make out the blonde in his green sweater who swiftly took off in the opposite direction when he realized he had everyone's attention. The girls all promptly sighed in disappointment.

"Wow, I don't think I've ever seen Kenny come to the field," Butters said to Stan who was wondering why Kenny's presence would cause such a commotion amongst the girls. "Right, Eric?"

But the jock wasn't paying attention. He just stared off in the direction where Kenny disappeared, a series of expressions passing over his face in quick succession. The girls all waited, looking to him for answers that they couldn't figure out themselves.

"Eric?" Butters asked again when Cartman didn't answer.

"Cartman?" Stan followed.

"Eric!" Bebe exclaimed, finally startling her boyfriend out of his stupor.

"What?!" he barked, turning to glare at her.

"What were you thinking about?" she asked.

"None of your damn business," he replied to which she stomped her foot in a huff, hands on her hips.

"Isn't it weird about Kenny though? Why would he come out here, do you think?" Millie was saying to Esther.

"God, why can't you ever shut up about Kenny?!" Cartman exploded. "It's like all you ever talk about is Kenny this Kenny that. Why don't you just shut your damn mouths? Next thing you know, you'll want to have Kenny on the team with how great you think he is, and our field will get overrun by gay hippies, and Stan's bad enough. And then we'll never win another game! But if that's what you want then screw you guys, I'm going home." And with that, Cartman strode off the field, hollering at the coach that practice was over.

"Jesus, overreact much?" Stan said after a few moments when it seemed that the girls couldn't even string two words together.

"You don't think Eric was real hurt, do you?" Butters voiced to Stan with some concern as he watched the two respective teams start to pack up and enter the locker rooms.

"I wouldn't worry about it, Butters," Stan said, hefting the half empty cooler of Gatorade and starting to trudge back inside with the others. "You should never take Cartman too seriously."

"But that's a mean thing to say, Stan!" Butters exclaimed. "Eric is real important to lots of people. We wouldn't know what to do without him around to tell us."

"I dunno about that," Stan said, coming up on the team's room. "Hey, listen Butters. I'll see you around, okay?"

"Well, waitaminute, Stan!" Butters called out. "You're gonna come to the party tonight, right? It's at Annie's house this time."

"Uh, I don't want to intrude on you guys..." Stan started.

"Oh, we'd love to have you! Especially after today. Bebe would insist." Butters smiled at Stan in hopeful expectation.

"I don't think my mom would take me," Stan finally said, ignoring the part that he still had to ask her in the first place.

"We can give you a ride!" Butter supplied. "Just wait for us after you're finished. We'll head straight over to Annie's and set up before everyone else shows up."

"That'll be a good three hours," Stan said.

"I know!" Butters said excitedly and took off in the direction of the girl's locker room with a skip in his step.

Stan sighed and would have pinched the bridge of his nose, a feeling which he was glad was suppressed by his still toting the Gatorade cooler.

As the last to leave the locker room after cleaning up after the team, he was late to the parking lot, where some of the girls were still waiting in Mandy's car for him, Butters amongst them of course. And drive to Annie's, they did, Stan only texting his mom a vague message about hanging out with Butters.

While Stan had been concerned about what he could possibly do with himself for three hours before he could start in on the alcohol, Butters and the girls kept him too busy with all their fashion crises to think about anything to the point of making his stomach start to turn. He was surprisingly grateful.

He was also able to borrow Annie's dark blue blazer that went really well with his eyes and the color of his boots. So besides reapplying his eyeliner and quickly going over his hair, he was mostly prepared for when the jocks started pouring into Annie's currently parentless house with the keg and various other assorted drinks.

Stan kept to the upstairs for awhile with Butters while the blonde fussed over his hair as the party started up. The music was so loud that when the two of them finally ventured downstairs, they were surprised by how many people had already showed up.

It didn't look like Kenny's crew had arrived yet, which Stan told himself he was firmly not thinking about. However, he did manage to separate himself from Butters long enough to take off in search of Wendy and Token.

As more people steadily streamed into the house, it took awhile before Stan finally found them and by then he had already drank his share of the keg, which was nothing to say of Wendy and Token, the former already halfway to the wind.

"Jesus, you started a little early, huh?" Stan said, Wendy half collapsing into his arms.

"Wouldn't you believe it," Token said.

"What the hell, Stan?!" Wendy said, leaning into his personal space and speaking louder than necessary, even with the bass of the music blasting around them.

"What?" Stan asked.

"You," Wendy said, poking a sharp finger into his chest, eyes squinted narrowly. "You've been hanging around with the cheerleaders and the jocks."

"Uh, yeah Wendy," Stan said. "I kinda have to now. I'm a manager of the team."

"Don't patronize me, Stan," Wendy argued. "I heard you were painting their nails!"

"You were painting the football team's nails?" Token asked.

"You were the one that said you didn't even like them! And you've never hung out with us after school!"

"I don't know what you want me to say, Wendy," Stan said.

"You're—you're such an asshole, Stan Marsh!" Wendy cried. "I can't believe I ever went out with you! You always ignored me for your stupid friends! You never had any time for me! And... and you're not that smart either!"

"Okay..." Stan said, watching as Wendy angrily disentangled herself from him and unsuccessfully stormed off in the other direction.

"What was that all about?" Stan asked of Token, who hadn't followed the raven-haired girl.

"I dunno, man," Token shrugged. "But she's kinda right, you know. You are kinda being a douche. And I don't mean that in a gay way."

"What do you mean then?" Stan asked, starting to get pissed off.

"Well, it's cool that you're gay and all. I mean, a lot of guys are gay now. Probably 'cuz everyone realized how stupid boobs were back in fourth grade. But I mean, you don't have to be such a jerk about it. It's like you're trying to throw being gay in our faces."

"How am I throwing it in your face?"

"Just forget it, man," Token said and walked off.

Stan was left standing there, trying not to look speechless because where the hell had all of that come from? But just as Stan was resolving not to let it get to him, he caught sight of Kyle and Tweek making out against the wall opposite him, and he really didn't need to see that whole thing start up again.

He planned on heading to the kitchen to get something a bit stronger to drink, but was waylaid on the way by a very drunk Cartman.

"Woah, when did you get here?" Stan asked.

"Sometime after your faggy friends over there," Cartman replied, indicating where Kyle and Tweek were still pressed up against each other.

"They're not my friends," Stan said weakly.

"Yeah, sure, but you wish they were," Cartman said, a sick grin taking over his face. "You make such a big deal about being such an individual, but you're really just a hypocrite."

"I'm a hypocrite?" Stan replied indignantly.

"You're nothing but a gay emo pussy always ragging on the team and our cheerleaders, and all you can do is ride our coattails up to the top of the social ladder when you really belong with the rest of the fags having their huge-ass orgies all over the place!"

"What?" Stan asked, surprised all of a sudden.

"You heard me," Cartman replied. "Don't pretend you haven't seen their exhibitionism running rampant. They get off on showing it in public. And Kenny gets off on watching them do it."

"What are you saying?" Stan asked warily, shock and anger conflicting within him.

"I'm saying that they want you to catch them doing it," Cartman answered nastily.

Stan stared at the taller boy hardly knowing how to respond. He knew that this was exactly what Cartman wanted, to get him off his game, but his fists were clenched so tightly into fists and his eyebrows furrowed into a glare that he knew Cartman was winning this.

"You're so full of shit, Cartman," Stan eventually managed to grit out. The jock only laughed callously.

"Believe what you want, Stan, but at least admit to yourself what's right in front of you. The eyes don't lie." And then for the third time that night, Stan was left standing motionless while the other party strode off after bitching about his image.

"Fuck this shit," Stan muttered, running an absentminded hand through his hair, not realizing the state he was leaving it in after he was done.


"What now?!" Stan all but growled, turning around to be faced with Butters' concerned face.

"You okay?" the blonde asked.

"I dunno, Butters. Fine," Stan sighed in exasperation.

"Eric—he didn't say anything, did he?"

"He said a lot," Stan said. "Too much."

"Gee, I'm sorry, Stan," Butters said in a small voice, rubbing his knuckles together.

"S'not your fault," Stan said, waving away the apology.

"You just seem to be having a bad time. And parties are supposed to be fun!"

"Yeah," Stan agreed.

The two boys stood there in silence for several beats, well, as much silence that could be had at a house party where the general atmosphere was that of screaming and pumping bass. His Infernal Majesty was the current thudding beat driving the teens out of their right minds. The track switched to a cover for that late 80s song Wicked Game, which was somehow fitting to Stan's mind at the time. His thoughts were filled with nothing but red hair and green eyes.

"You wanna dance, Stan?" Butters asked. "It might make you feel better. I know it always makes me feel better."

Stan chuckled softly at that. That was just so Butters.

"Yeah," he said, only realizing what he had actually agreed to after the blonde was already leading him through the crowd of dancers by his hand.

Butters needed no encouragement to wrap his arms around Stan's neck. His smile was soft, but still bright, encouraging Stan to drop his reservations.

Tentatively, Stan placed his hands on the smaller boy's lower back, and after that, it was relatively easy for Stan to forget himself and just go with the motions. After all, he had enough experience with this kind of dancing.

It seemed they both did.

The beat pulsed over the boys, and the dim lights cast just enough shadow on the darkened crowd to lend an atmosphere that leant a courage to Stan that spoke of those heightened times back in California in the thick of the crowd, sex and hunger bearing down on him and letting loose his inhibitions in the midst of a throng of strangers.

This was only all too similar.

Stan tightened his grip on the body in front of him, the space between them growing infinitely smaller until they were so tightly pressed together that it was as if Stan could feel both their pulses thrumming in his chest.

Butters gasped, but responded in turn, allowing himself to bolden his embrace and staring up into Stan's dark eyes as they ground their hips together.

The movements were simple, and Stan thrilled in the moment, flashes of red and green sparking behind his eyes as he stared down at blonde and blue. His mind was in a strange muddled state, aware of his actions as he moved with the blonde, but far away from the moment itself.

Ville Valo's voice washed over him, and he inhaled sharply, pressing his cheek to his partner's, eyes shut tight as a feeling of depression flooded him and left him feeling weaker than he'd felt in awhile.

It was like a half remembered dream. Stan ran his hands down the body he was holding, fingers slipping under cloth and denim to touch just the barest hint of skin, causing it to pebble lightly with gooseflesh. Stan played his fingers lightly across the skin, soothing it back down until it was smooth once again. There was only one person he needed to be holding right now.

Arms gripped him tight, arms sealing him in his embrace with hands pressed gently against his neck. This left him in a position right by Stan's ear, though there weren't any attempts to take things further than they already were. Stan was surprisingly happy about that.

"Stan," he breathed softly, wondering at what he was feeling.

Just then Stan managed to pull himself back, startling the blonde into stillness. Butters gazed up at Stan as he tried to steady his breathing, which had somehow grown into a harsh pant as they were dancing.

"Stan?" Butters asked, worry coloring his voice.

Stan shook his head in response, not feeling up to conversation at the moment.

Concern flooded Butters features and he started to reach his hands out to Stan in what was most like an act of reassurance that Stan was pretty reluctant to receive, but just then, the music was abruptly cut off, and the crowd that had purportedly been watching them fell into a hush that was broken by one word.


Suffice it to say that the party was soon broken up after that. Annie's parents were very vocal in expressing their disappointment in not knowing their house would be shelter to the slew of peers Annie seemed to have.

Stan had lost Butters in the rush to flee the scene, which was only for the better, as Stan was in no position to deal with any of the blonde's attempts at conversation or friendship.

His delicate state was soon overcome by feelings of irritation and resentment as he thought about the course the night had taken. First, Wendy and Token. Then Cartman and his lies. And Tweek and Kyle. That was already too much right there, and Stan had no doubt that Craig had been somewhere nearby.

Just what was their game, telling him those things? It wasn't any business of theirs what he did with himself. They'd managed three years without him. Two weeks was hardly enough to claim the right to judge him. And what was the purpose of pointing out Kyle and his friends' actions? It's not like he had anything to do with them nor did his behavior reflect on anything they got up to on their own. Cartman was so full of shit.

Stan grit his teeth together. Annie's parents were just the icing on the rest of the disaster of a night where he had to walk home. To top it off, his stomach was growling with hunger, the coffee and booze mixing in an unpleasant manner in his system.

Stan stomped into his house, tracking snow and feeling warmth attack his ice-bitten cheeks. He pushed his bangs angrily out of his face as he rummaged through the fridge, looking for something quick and fatty, settling on cold leftover pizza though his mind gagged at the unappeal of it.

He trudged heavily up the stairs and shut himself in his room with no care for his parents, whether they were asleep or awake.

Ripping clothes off of his body, Stan banged out of his room into the bathroom, shower settings turned to their warmest while Stan wiped the worst of the gunk off his face. The water continued to run as Stan stood before the mirror, not really taking in his face, only aware of more black smears disappearing from around his eyes.

Stan slammed his hands angrily against the cold of the sink and breathed harshly through his nose. Dark blue took up his vision, gazing back at him with the same resentment Stan had felt since he had turned fifteen years old.

In moments, Stan had stormed back into his room for his cell and was back in the slowly steaming bathroom. His fingers were quick to find what he wanted, and he pressed the phone firmly against his ear, leaning back against the moist condensation of the tiled wall.

He listened to the ring as the call went through and waited.

The bus on Monday was just as annoying as always, though this time Stan was too preoccupied to worry about the whispers going on around him as he sat beside Butters and watched the snowy scenery pass by. His conversation with Victor hadn't gone the way he'd expected, but then he realized he probably shouldn't have been expecting anything from Victor. He'd always get something else entirely. And so of course when Stan had tried to bitch his problems at the guy, Victor had only backed up what everyone else had said.

Stan was a hypocrite and a jerk. He claimed he didn't care about fitting in, but his whole attitude and image were based on what he felt others would think of him. He made friends easily, but treated them poorly, only acting friendly when they could somehow be of use to him. And he justified his actions by claiming that everyone was out to get him. Victor may have been an asshole, but at least he didn't give excuses about it. He was honest to both himself and others. The same couldn't be said for Stan.

It gave him a lot to think about over the weekend. Like how he really hated the situation he was in, and the person he'd become because of it. And most of it was his own fault.

Still, despite holing himself up in his room and ignoring the rest of the world for two days, South Park had carried on without him. Proof in how Butters greeted him warmly when they met that morning, smiling especially bright. Stan did his best to put the same sincerity into his response to the blonde, but he was sure that it came up lacking.

Stan also tried to not feel as though everyone was looking at him, talking about him, but his paranoia had not diminished at all in that regard. It made his stomach turn unpleasantly, the last meal he had eaten in the dark hours of the morning threatening to rise up to his throat.

Butters didn't seem to notice anything different in his classmates' behavior, or if he did, he simply didn't care. He chattered away happily to Stan about his weekend, and his parents, and the weather, and Stan and his own respective outfits. Stan contributed whenever he could, but his mood was so low that he felt there was no way to match Butter's enthusiasm.

So it was somewhat of a relief to finally make it to the school. There was no way to avoid everyone he wished to, and that list was rather long if he really thought about it, since they all had the same homeroom first thing every morning. Still, he was relieved that Cartman seemed to want to avoid him just as much and sat as far away from him as possible, even though it brought him closer to Kenny's side of the room.

And Stan avoided Kenny's gang with as much fervor as he could because it seemed that now more than ever, Kenny was trying to perfect a way to kill him by sight alone, and he seethed and sneered if he so much as caught Stan even glancing in that direction.

The cheerleaders were more mixed, some of the girls indifferent to him while others seemed all too willing to get him alone and start gossiping. However, after Friday's party, Stan wasn't ready for any more time spent in their company. And he didn't even want to think about sitting anywhere near Token and Wendy, so that left him with a spot right behind Jimmy Valmer. Butters took the seat beside him without even a second thought, though many others gave him some strange looks, including Wendy and Token from their seats at the front of the room.

Jimmy himself seemed uneasy at Stan's presence behind him, shifting around restlessly and shooting worried looks at Thomas and Timmy every now and then. However, he didn't make an attempt to move until Kevin sat down beside him.

"Hey, Jimmy!" the jock greeted, seemingly cheerfully, though he placed a restraining arm across Jimmy's crutches.

"Well, heya, K—K—Kevin," Jimmy stammered. "How are you on this f—fine day?"

"Pretty good, Jimmy," Kevin replied, scooting his seat closer to Jimmy's. "Just one problem. My morning was almost perfect, but just one thing got in the way."

"I hope it—I hope it wasn't to—to—to—too bad," Jimmy said. "Very much."

"Well, I dunno, Jimmy. Why don't I tell you about it and then you can tell me," Kevin said.

"Oh, th—that's okay, Kevin," Jimmy said quickly. "I'll ta—ta—take your word for it."

"Nah, I think I really ought to tell you," the jock replied, leaning in really close to Jimmy. "Then you can tell me what I can do about it."

Jimmy's nerves seemed to get the better of him at this point, and he started to climb out of his seat even without the use of his crutches.

"Sit down, freak!" Kevin demanded, sweeping his arm across Jimmy's desk and knocking down his folder.

"Dude!" Stan said. "What's your problem?!"

"Shut it, Stan," Kevin growled. "I wasn't talking to you, was I?"

"You're picking on a handicapped kid, dude. That's lower than low."

"I said shut up!"

"Dude," Stan repeated. "I'd totally say how I'd report this to the coach or something, but this is so weak that it's not even worth it. If you can't even get it through your thick skull how lame you're being."

"Man..." Kevin mumbled, glaring at Stan. He stood out of his chair and walked back towards the jocks. "Weak."

After a short time, Jimmy turned in his seat to look back at Stan.

"Well, th—th—thanks, Stan," he managed to say.

"Yeah, no problem, Jimmy," Stan said and smiled at him.

They didn't speak for the rest of period, Jimmy taking that time to converse with Timmy and the others, while Stan flipped idly through a photography magazine and told Butters about his utterly lame weekend.

"You know, Rebecca was telling me what she thought of our dance the other day," Butters eventually said, just as the bell rang to end the class.

"Huh?" Stan asked, confused.

"Uh, nothing. I guess I'll see you at lunch, Stan," Butters said as they parted in the hallway, kicking the floor in a disheartened way.

"Yeah, see you," Stan agreed.

And the rest of his morning generally passed without incident despite having to endure Kenny's scathing looks for two more classes. However lunch did not prove to be the relief Stan had been looking for. He was accosted by Wendy as soon as he stepped foot in the cafeteria.

"Stan, please don't run away," she said, not a promising start. "I'm really sorry about everything I said on Friday."

"Um..." Stan started.

"No, let me say this," she demanded. "I had no right to say any of that. I was drunk, and I admit I was a bit jealous of you spending time with Cartman and Bebe and them. But I know you kind of have to now, and so I'm sorry that I yelled at you."

All of this was said in seemingly a single breath, and Wendy took the time to catch herself after she was done, staring at Stan with intent.

"Uh, that's okay, Wendy," Stan said. "I'm realizing you kinda had a point."

"No, but Stan, it wasn't for me to say those things to you," Wendy argued, before seeming to realize what he had said. "Wait. What?"

"Don't worry about it. I know you didn't mean to hurt me."

Wendy stared at Stan with something bordering on disbelief before she recovered herself.

"But that's just it, Stan," she said. "I did mean to hurt you. I was upset, but I just want you to know how sorry I am that I did that to you."

"Okay," Stan finally agreed.

"Forgiven?" Wendy asked hopefully.

"Yeah," Stan said.

"Great," Wendy smiled. "So, lunch?" She started leading the way towards their usual table.

"Uh, no offense, Wendy," Stan said, stopping the girl in her tracks. "I'm not mad at you or anything, but I was thinking of sitting with Jimmy today."

Wendy stood unmoving and said nothing. After a few seconds, Stan figured she wasn't going to, so he took off to the far side of the room where the rejects always sat with a parting goodbye for the girl.

Whispers started up and followed him all the way to the table, or maybe that was just another part of Stan's self-centered paranoia.

"Hey, guys," he greeted the startled boys. "Okay if I sit with you?"


"Cool," Stan said and sat down.

"If you d—don't mind me asking, w—why aren't you with your other f—f—f—fre—friends?" Jimmy asked.

"Honestly? I'm not really sure," Stan said. "I just felt that this was where I needed to be."

"COCK!" Thomas said.

"Kevin hasn't given you any more trouble?" Stan asked.


"Good. You know, I don't really understand... I thought everyone loved your jokes. I know you're from different cliques, but... well, I guess I thought something like that wouldn't change. You still do your standup comedy, right?"

"N—not so much anymore very much," Jimmy said.

"But your jokes were the best!"

"I don't re—re—remember the last fa—fabulous joke I told."

"What about that one about the fish sticks?" Stan tried.

"SHIT! ASSHOLE!" Thomas said.

"Jimmy," Timmy said.

"Y—you mean, you like fish sticks?" Jimmy asked.

"Hell yeah!" Stan said.


"You like to p—put them in your mouth?"

"I sure do," Stan said.

"W—what are you? A g—gay fish?"

"TIMMY!" And that pretty much summed up the table's reaction.

"Wow, what a terrific audience."

And for once, it seemed the audience really was terrific. It had been awhile since Stan had laughed so hard. In fact, he couldn't remember the last time he had the opportunity to laugh that wasn't at someone else's expense. However, he couldn't seem to stop smiling at the look of pride that had come over Jimmy's features.

Still coming down from his chuckling, Stan found himself eye to eye with the redhead at the table nearby.

Kyle was staring at him. At least, his eyes were focused on Stan, though they held the same blank gaze as always. But it startled Stan into a frown.

He stared back at the redhead, not sure what to make of it. Kyle was usually studying all through lunch, never once lifting his head unless prompted by one of his group.

Kyle looked away first, turning to Kenny when his friend said something to him. Stan turned back to his own table before he could get the full brunt of the blonde's glare. His actions hadn't gone unnoticed.

"I g—guess it must be hard for you n—no longer having your b—b—b—best friend very much," Jimmy said quietly. Stan winced, suddenly wishing he had a coffee in his hand, or even an actual meal.

"What do you remember about that summer?" he asked.

"After you left?"

Stan nodded.

"Not m—much."


"K—Kyle was v—very hard to be around. He would act crazy all the time. He must have b—b—b—b—been upset at you leaving."

"Yeah," Stan agreed. "He would have been."


"I didn't tell him I was going," Stan admitted.

"W—w—wow," Jimmy said.

"ASSHOLE!" Thomas blurted, casting a sidelong worried glance at Stan, one hand over his mouth. It was probably a rather fitting assessment.

"There wasn't anything else?"

"S—sorry, Stan. I k—kinda avoided Kyle after that," Jimmy said. "He was a bit of a j—j—jerk."

"It wasn't any one thing. SHIT! SHIT!" Thomas said. "But he was a bummer to spend time with. ASSHOLE!"

"TIMMY TIMMY!" Timmy agreed.

"I see."

"The n—next thing I knew," Jimmy said. "E—Eric p—pushed me down, and said we were no longer c—cool to hang around with."


Stan said nothing because what could you possibly say to that?

A beat of silence passed over the table, only broken by Thomas' "COCK!"

"Sorry," the boy offered.

Stan finally caught up with Wendy and Token after school, slow as he was to walk to the locker rooms. Butters had already run ahead.

"Hey, man," Token said, saying nothing about lunch nor his spiel from Friday's party, not that Stan really expected anything. This was Token.

"Hey," Stan replied.

"What happened at lunch, Stan?" Wendy asked, something of a tone in her voice.

"I wanted to talk to Jimmy," Stan said.


"Seems like Kevin's been giving him trouble."

"So?" Token said.

"I wanted to make sure he was alright!"

"Stan, Jimmy's a reject. You gotta expect a little bullying," Wendy tried to explain.

"That's bullcrap!" Stan argued. "Someone gets bullied, and there's a problem! Someone gets bullied, and you help him! There are no allowances for any stupid system!"


"Stan," Wendy started, but Stan picked up his pace, wishing he could just skip practice all together.

"Stan, Ike missed you!" Wendy called after him, but Stan didn't stop.

Memories of sitting in the stands at the Special Olympics with Kyle and Wendy, watching Timmy kick ass at the javelin throw, and Jimmy win all those gold medals even without steroids, just made Stan angrier. Wendy called them rejects, and jocks like Kevin bullied them even though Jimmy still told awesome jokes. It was all such shit.

He entered the locker room in a rage that startled most of the changing boys into bursts of movement.

"Out on the field now!" Stan yelled. Everyone hurried to comply.

Fuck the players and their attitudes. Fuck the coach and his chores. If Stan had to spend his every afternoon here, he would damn well make sure that they had a winning team.

Already forming plans and exercises in his mind, Stan grabbed the nearest dirty towel and snapped it at any stragglers. He marched through the locker room with a mission.

"Kevin, you're on cooler duty," he stated, and when the jock tried to give him complaint, Stan snapped the towel in his face. "Get it now or I'll have the whole team running suicides for the practice."

Kevin looked like he wanted to object, and Stan could just see the argument in his mind. Stan had no real authority. If Kevin wanted, he could call the coach on him or even beat him around the room. It wasn't like Stan would have been able to put up much of a fight, half-anorexic as he was.

But the teen just lowered his glare and went to grab the cooler, marching ahead of Stan onto the field. Stan didn't know whether to feel glad of it or shocked, so he settled for a more healthy neutral.

He gazed around the locker room once, but besides the normal filth, there wasn't anything too out of place. He'd make sure to get the team to pick up their own towels before practice was over.

Walking out to the field, Stan suddenly stopped, hearing Wendy's voice in his head mention Ike.

"Damn," he muttered.

Tonight, it was somewhat of a struggle, picking out what clothes he wanted to wear. Stan had labored through fixing his hair, not remembering the last time he had been so indecisive about it.

His hands shook as he applied his eyeliner, making him mess up and have to wipe it all off and start again from the beginning.

Kyle and his family were coming over for dinner. Stan felt a certain dread roll through him as he thought of Kyle being in his home. His stomach kept rolling and several times Stan had to press his face against the closet door, close his eyes and just breathe in order to stop himself from hurling.

After dressing, Stan still couldn't be entirely sure just what he had put on, mind unfocused as it was. He paced up and down his room, deliberating on whether to wait downstairs or if that would be blatantly unusual behavior. Watching TV was a normal thing to do, right? Stan loaded his old favorite, Terrence and Phillip's Asses of Fire, but stared unseeing from his bed as it played, fingers clenching repeatedly in his comforter.

By the time the doorbell rang, Stan had bitten his lips raw, and it was only by sitting on his hands that he had managed not to mess up his hair or smear his eyeliner by rubbing at the bridge of his nose.

Muffled voices from downstairs carried up to his room, and Stan kneeled up from his position, further twisting the blankets into a mess. He waited with bated breath, but the minutes trickled by without word from his mother to get his ass downstairs.

Stan collapsed back against his headboard, torn between relief and anxiety. Maybe Kyle hadn't come? Maybe he was doing something with Kenny. Or maybe he was too busy studying. Or he could be with Craig. Fucking Craig, Stan seethed.

Someone knocked at his door.

"Fuck!" Stan jumped.


"Ike?" Stan answered the door.

"You okay?" the younger boy asked. Stan swallowed.

Kyle was standing right behind him.

"Yeah," he said, staring at the redhead. Kyle gazed back silently. Stan cleared his throat and focused on Ike. "Yeah. Come on in."

Stan walked back to his bed, trying to calm his heart with every slow step.

"Hey, you have your own TV!" Ike exclaimed, wandering over to it. Kyle stood in the middle of the room awkwardly.

"Yeah," Stan said. "I kinda can't stand being around my parents for long periods of time."

"Totally," Ike agreed then paused awkwardly and looked around him.

"Oh, just sit wherever," Stan said, jumping up quickly to pull out his desk chair in offering. Ike settled on the floor beside Stan's bed, so that left Kyle to take the chair. Stan felt like some old-fashioned gentleman as the redhead sat down. Skittishly, he moved back to his spot.

"Uh, sorry about Monday," Stan started, focusing on Ike since it was easier. Ike was a more comforting presence. "Wendy told me you were kinda upset?"

"She did?" Ike asked, turning away from Asses of Fire. "I didn't say anything like that."

"Uh, well, yeah. She did."

"Nah, you were hanging with Jimmy. It was cool."

"Yeah?" Stan was pleasantly surprised. "Cool."

"Yeah," Ike chuckled. "Probably more fun than hanging with a kid like me."

"Dude," Stan said, chucking his knuckles across Ike's head. "I sometimes forget you're only like twelve years old."

"Eleven," Ike grinned.

"Eleven?! Dude, how many grades did you skip?"

"Just three," Ike said. "I'll be twelve in two months."

"That's right. Seventeenth of December, right?"

"Right," Ike said with a smile.

"You're playing with the big boys, Ike," Stan teased. "Careful. Some of them can be real douches."

"Like you?" Ike asked.

"Ouch," Stan laughed.

"I just meant that you're kinda messing with the powers that be. Not everyone can handle that. You'll watch out for yourself, won't you?"

"Don't worry about it," Stan said with a soft smile for the boy.

"I'm serious, Stan," Ike said, frowning. "Don't do anything stupid."

"This whole system is such a piece of crap," Stan sighed, rolling his eyes.

"It's really not," Kyle interjected.

Stan and Ike turned to stare at the redhead. Kyle was gazing at Stan, a spark of something unreadable almost visible in his eyes.

"What?" Stan said.

"It's not stupid," Kyle repeated, same monotone voice. "It's survival."

"No," Stan eventually managed, glancing back and forth between green eyes. "It's a circus."

"And you would know?" Kyle said, a bite of something entering his voice, though still monotone.

"Woah," Stan said softly. "Careful there, Kyle. If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were angry."

"Stan," Ike said, and when Stan tore his eyes away from Kyle's green, the younger boy was looking at him with something like worry. Stan gave him a long look before turning back to Kyle. The redhead was still looking at him.

"You've got no idea," Kyle said.

"You're right," Stan said. "I don't."

The two ex-friends stared at each other, Stan feeling like he was issuing a challenge against the other. Kyle was the first to turn away.

Not long after that they were called down to dinner. Stan managed to score a seat next to Ike on the end of the table, so he didn't have to look at Kyle on Ike's other side. Unfortunately, not being able to see the redhead was causing its own brand of problems for Stan.

His stomach turned unpleasantly as he swirled food around his fork, only half-listening to what his parents were saying. Kyle had talked to him. Actually talked. Without Kenny around to guide him. Stan felt this must be significant in some way. He just wasn't sure exactly how.

Another downside of his seat was that he couldn't gauge Kyle's reactions to the questions his parents asked him. Or his reactions to whatever Stan said when asked something. If he had any reactions that is.

As it was, Stan couldn't even pretend to make an attempt to eat, even in front of company. And of course, none of this went unnoticed by the sharp eyes of Sheila Broflovski.

"I hope you're not feeling sick," she commented. "You haven't taken one bite of your food."

"Just too many snacks before dinner, Mrs. Broflovski," Stan said weakly, ignoring his mother's disapproving face.

"Teenagers," Sheila said, turning back to Stan's mom. "They're always eating all these unhealthy—"

"Liar," Ike leaned into Stan to whisper, grinning.

"Shut up," Stan muttered.

"You ate when you came over to dinner at our house," Ike noted.

"That was different. Kosher food doesn't count. It's not real food."

"Dude, you know we don't keep kosher, don't you?" Ike chuckled.

Stan looked at Ike in surprise.

"But Kyle was always eating these healthy things... and all those Jewish dishes..." Stan said, remembering.

"That was just Mom trying to control his diabetes, and those dishes were only for special occasions," Ike explained, retreating back into his personal space with a grin.

Really? Stan mouthed at him. Ike only grinned wider in response. Stan was a bit stunned actually. How had he not known that?

He had spent practically every waking moment with Kyle. They knew everything about each other, even the most banal. Why hadn't he ever thought to ask? Why hadn't Kyle ever told him? It seemed like such a simple thing, nothing worth obsessing over, but for some reason, Stan couldn't let go of it.

"So I was thinking it'd be a really wonderful way to get involved," Sheila was saying.

"Well, that sounds great!" Stan's mother exclaimed.

Uh oh. What had he missed?

"I heard about it from Mrs. Stotch," Sheila said. "Apparently, she's been very involved in PFLAG ever since her son got his first boyfriend."

"What?" Stan said, startled into the conversation.

"It's this organization called PFLAG," Stan's mom said.

"I know what PFLAG is, Mom. I'm gay. What I want to know is why you're talking about it."

"Watch your tone, Stanley," Sharon warned. "This sounds like a good idea actually. It'd be great way for your father and I to get involved with your life."

"Huh?" Randy asked, turning away from Kyle's dad.

"No, Mom. PFLAG is good for kids who need support," Stan said. "I'm fine."

He shook his head, feeling an argument coming on, and this would be pro for the course if it was just them, but glancing quickly around at everyone else at the table, Stan felt a rush of flustered embarrassment take over him, feeling his face burn hot. Not in front of Sheila and Gerald. And Ike. And Kyle.

"You're always complaining that we don't understand what you're going through. I'm just trying to be more understanding."

"No, you're trying to control me by joining a gay organization," Stan voiced, helpless as his anger bubbled up, frustrated that this was happening, that it was coming out this way, and embarrassed that he couldn't seem to stop himself from doing it.

"Oh, Stanley," Sharon groaned, sparing a worried glance for the visitors. "Stop exaggerating. I'm trying to be understanding here."

"I don't want you to be understanding! I want you to keep your god dammed face out of my life!" Stan said, voice going shrill in his anger, exactly the opposite of what he wanted to happen right now.

"Oh my!" Kyle's mom exclaimed.

"I'm warning you, Stanley..."

"Oh, you're warning me," Stan chuckled in hysteric rage. "You're fucking warning me. Gee, Mom. Wanna warn me again so I can really learn my lesson?"

"Go to your room, Stanley!" Sharon barked, red in the face, just like him.

"Fine," Stan said, pushing violently back from the table and standing. He swallowed heavily around the shameful anger burning in his throat. "Thanks for coming over, Mr. Broflovski, Mrs. Broflovski."

The two adults stared at him in surprise for his comment, sarcastic though it was, but Stan spared them no other concern. He stomped out of the dining room and instead of carrying on up to his room, he stormed outside, slamming the door behind him. He felt like a proper drama queen. It was humiliating.

"Stanley!" he heard his mom call.

"Dammit," he muttered, kicking angrily at the sidewalk. His hands were quickly freezing in the air without the protection of his gloves, and his jeans were far too tight to fit his fingers into the pockets.

The expressions of the Broflovskis' faces... and his own attitude... it had been so easy to fall back into that habit. Stan closed his eyes, gripping the bridge of his nose tightly between his fingers. Taking a deep breath, Stan let go and opened his eyes, slowly making his way down the sidewalk.

A sudden gust of wind bit at his cheeks, chilling him to a point almost too much to handle.

"Stan! Hey, Stan!"

Turning around, Stan saw Ike running towards him, coat in hand, Kyle walking more sedately at a distance behind him.

"Wha—What are doing out here?" Stan asked, teeth chattering.

"It's freezing, doofus," Ike said, handing him the coat. Stan took it gratefully.

"Sorry about all of that in there," Stan said, once his hands were firmly ensconced in the deep pockets of the coat Ike had brought him. It clashed horribly with the rest of his outfit, but Stan was too happy for the warmth to care.

"Sorry my mom had to pry into your business," Ike replied as Kyle finally caught up with them.

"Her face was kinda hilarious, wasn't it?" Stan admitted, chuckling.

The three of them continued walking down the sidewalk in a mostly comfortable silence until Ike paused in front of one the houses down the block.

"Hey, Stan. Are your neighbors home?" he asked.

"Uh, I don't think so?" Stan said. "Their car's not here. Why?"

Ike wandered around to the back of the house, and Stan spared a worried glance for Kyle before following after the younger boy.

The wooden fencing was too high for Ike or even Stan to see over, though Ike unsuccessfully tried to pull himself up to get a look.

"Ike. What are you doing?" Stan said, voice lowered.

"Give me a boost, would you?" Ike asked.

"Uh, okay?" Stan said. Ike stood on Stan's folded hands and surveyed the backyard.

"So what are we doing?" Stan asked again, glancing at Kyle. The redhead was focused on his little brother.

"Your neighbors have the worst landscaping I've seen in awhile," Ike commented.

"And that's a problem because?" Stan asked.

"Ike. What are you doing?" Kyle asked in something of an older brother voice.

"I'm gonna rearrange their landscape," Ike said.

"You're gonna what?" Stan exclaimed.

"Honestly," Ike sighed. "You heard me the first time."

"Ike, you're trespassing on their property," Kyle said.

"I know that."

"That's illegal," Kyle said.

"Dammit, Kyle. I'll just be a minute," Ike growled. Stan jerked in surprise, not used to an Ike that got pissed off at his brother. But before Stan could do anything, Ike had already boosted himself over the fence.

"Ike!" Kyle said, voice raised. "What are you--?"

"Ike!" Stan called out.

"Quiet!" Ike said.

The two boys turned to stare at each other.

"Should we--?" Stan started.

"Yeah," Kyle breathed, and they clambered over the fence together.

Snow-covered hedges decorated the entirety of the backyard like a maze. In fact, it probably was a maze, with hedges so tall, Stan wondered why he hadn't seen them over the fence.

Ike was nowhere in sight.

A feeling of panic overwhelmed Stan for a moment, thinking he'd get himself lost before he'd have any hope of finding Ike. But Kyle was already moving forward, left hand trailing along the leaves, and as soon as he came to the nearest twist in the path, he turned left and kept following, hand always affixed to the side of the hedge, letting it lead him. Stan hurried to keep step with him.

For a solid ten minutes, Stan followed Kyle closely as the redhead turned left again and again and again. Their shoes crunched in the snow, loudly awkward for all the silence about them. If it weren't for Stan's slowly receding nerves, he'd have called out for Ike by now. However, as time went on and then still didn't come across, Stan's panic once more grew.

He wanted to fret to Kyle, but the redhead was stoically looking straight ahead of them, and Stan wasn't sure if it was because he was so focused on finding Ike or if it was to better ignore Stan.

Stan awkwardly cleared his throat.

"A bit crazy, huh?" Stan said. "Random maze in someone's backyard? Kinda feels like old times."

"No, not really," Kyle replied. Stan felt his heart pick up a pace in a not good way.

"Aw, come on," Stan said. "We were always getting into crazy things like this when we were kids."

"My brother's becoming a criminal," Kyle said, bringing them to a stop so that he could stare blankly at Stan. "That's not exactly something I want to poke fun at."

He started walking again.

"Hey, come on!" Stan said, running to catch up. "I didn't mean that."

"Then what did you mean?"

"Just that—that... aww, forget it," Stan said, and he turned to walk in the opposite direction.

"Wait," Kyle said and followed after him. "You're going to get lost. The best way to get out of a maze is to keep your hand along one wall."

"Yeah, well sorry if I feel like we're just going in circles," Stan said moodily, making a random turn at another opening. "Maybe we'll find Ike faster if we just split up."

It was quiet for a moment, the only proof Stan had that Kyle was still following him was the crunch of his boots in the snow.

"He's my brother," Kyle said. "Not yours."

Stan stopped to stare back at the redhead. What the hell did that even mean?

"Are you jealous?" he asked slowly, incredulously. "You're one to talk."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Kyle asked blandly.

Stan felt the ridiculous urge to giggle. Was this really happening?

"If you're so insistent that you're his brother then maybe you should start acting like one," he said.

Kyle gazed at him silently for a long moment, and Stan wouldn't learn if he was going to get punched in the face because in the next moment the hedge to the right side of him crumpled away. Stan practically shrieked, running into Kyle.

"What the fucking hell?!"

Ike giggled from where he was on the other side of the hedge, a pair of smallish-looking hedge-trimmers in his hands. Behind the small boy, Stan could see a large path of destruction, branches of leaves everywhere.

"Shit, Ike," Stan grumbled. "Have you been trying to cut these things down?"

"It's fun, huh?" Ike grinned.

"You've got some strange hobbies," Stan said, shaking his head.

"We should get back," Kyle said.

"I've barely even started though," Ike started to protest, only in the next moment, they all heard the loud slam of a car door.

"Time to go," Stan announced, grabbing Ike with one hand and heading through the path of Ike's trimmed destruction. It was easier to follow Ike's way in then attempt to go back the way he and Kyle had come. He didn't even know from which way he and Kyle and come.

"Who the hell decides they need to have a maze in their fucking backyard?" Stan grumbled.

"That's what I was saying!" Ike exclaimed while Kyle shushed him.

Finally reaching a stretch of fence, Stan grabbed Ike by the waist and boosted him up. They could have been hopping right into view of the neighbors, but Stan's heart was beating too loudly in his ears to stop to think about it.

Kyle scaled the fence after his brother, and Stan took a hasty glance around the backyard at Ike's mess before following him.

Fortunately, the owners weren't there, but Stan was still careful, checking to make sure no one was watching, before leading the brothers back to the sidewalk and back to his house.

Breathing deeply, Stan slowed his heart rate, walking in silence until he felt calm enough to talk again.

"You often break into people's backyards, Ike?" he asked.

"Only when they really, really need it," Ike answered. At Stan's blank look, he continued. "What? It's fun!"

"And you just happened to be carrying around a pair of garden clippers?" he asked as Ike lifted the leg of his jeans to place the trimmers in some holster strapped to his leg.

"It's only for emergencies," Ike murmured.

"Kyle! Ike!" Mrs. Broflovski cried, running out of Stan's house in a fluster, followed more slowly by Mr. Broflovski and Stan's parents. "Where were you boys?"

"We were just taking a walk, Mom," Ike said, wincing as she hugged him tightly to her chest.

"Well, you should have told us. We were worried about you!"

"Sorry, Mrs. Broflovski," Stan said.

"Come on. We're heading home," she said, ignoring him as she pulled Ike quickly away.

"Bye, Stan," Ike said, waving.

"Bye," he repeated, watching the family pile into their car, his eyes lingering on Kyle's short, red hair. His parents came to stand behind him and wave as their guests drove off.

"You're grounded, Stanley," his mom said.

Stan would have turned to look at her, but really, he couldn't think of anything that was more appropriate for this clusterfuck of a night. He followed his parents back inside, dragging his feet and wearily trudged up to his room.

Stepping inside his room, Stan looked around, noting all the signs of his frantic behavior only hours before.

A burn traveled up his throat from his stomach and released itself from his body in a scream. Turning, he slammed his door, only to open and slam it again, and then once more.

"STANLEY!" his mother yelled.

Stan pressed the phone tightly to his ear as he closed his bedroom door quietly.

"I dunno about this, Stan," Butters was saying.

"Come on, Butters," Stan pleaded. "You already said you'd help me!"

"But—but you're grounded, and if your mom finds you gone, she'll just get more mad and you'll get even more grounded," Butters worried.

Stan checked his reflection in the mirror, straightening a piece of hair over his eyes.

"Believe me, it won't make a difference," Stan said. "And I really need to be there this time."

"Well..." Butters stalled.

"You're the only one I can ask to do this for me, man," Stan said truthfully. A sharp inhalation came from across the line.

"Okay, Stan. I'll be there in five minutes."

"Great. Bring a ladder," Stan said.

Sneaking out of his house for a party was actually not all that uncommon for Stan. He'd done it enough times back in California, not necessarily while he had been dating Bobby, but later on when he would meet up with Victor and his mother had become more controlling about his whereabouts.

Still, he hadn't planned on doing much sneaking out when he came back to South Park. For one thing, there really wasn't much to interest him here in the town he had grown up in, especially not a dumbass party that was held every Friday. But after the disaster of Wednesday night and his conversation with Kyle, Stan couldn't stand one night of not seeing what the redhead was up to.

Pacing around his room, Stan started biting at his nails, spitting in disgust when he got a taste of nail polish and cursing at himself.

A clatter against the window startled Stan out of his panic, and he ran over to peer out into the dark, easily catching sight of a flash of blonde hair.

Stan grinned and opened the window, waving and motioning at his friend to stay quiet.

Grabbing his things, Stan left his bedside lamp on, though he made sure his door was still locked before making his descent down the ladder.

"Mandy's just down the street," Butters whispered when Stan greeted him on the ground.

"Great," Stan grinned, helping Butters fold up the ladder and carry it back to where Mandy was waiting. "Awesome outfit by the way."

"Th—thanks!" Butters said, flushing red.

"Heya, Stan," Mandy greeted, where she had the car idling beside the curb.

"Thanks for this," he said in response, loading the ladder in the back and then climbing in after Butters. The blonde was situated at an awkward angle, the ladder filling the back seat and sticking partially out the window.

"Parents are the worst," she said. "I totally understand."

"Exactly," Stan said, giddiness threatening to spill over from inside of him as he sat beside his friend. He was going to the party, he was going to see Kyle, and the rest was still a mystery. Still, it was enough.

"Let's get out of here!" Mandy cheered, catching onto his excitement, and they sped off to Red's house.

Entering the already crowded house flanked on either side by Butters and Mandy, he felt like something of a celebrity. Excitement got the better of him as the music started to pound down on him. No one paid him any mind.

It wasn't difficult to pick Kyle out from the crowd, living it up on the makeshift dance floor as he was, the rest of the outcasts surrounding him. He was small, but his red hair was easily visible even in the dim lighting.

Stan's heartbeat started thumping just that much faster.

Kyle was dressed in another one of Kenny's little tight outfits, and though his expression was as blank as ever, Stan was starting to not mind it.

"I need a drink," he announced, and Butters was only too happy to follow him to the kitchen for a shot of something clear and vile.

"Don't overdo it, Stan," the blonde fussed as Stan grabbed a beer out of the freezer. It was just cold enough. "You need to watch out for yourself."

"That's what I have you for," Stan said, smiling. Butters blushed and looked down, rubbing his knuckles together.

"Aw, heck," he said.

"Come on," Stan said, laughing. He threw an arm across the blonde's shoulders and steered him back into the party.

Immediately, Stan zeroed in his focus on where Kyle had moved up against a wall with Craig, and they were currently attacking each other's lips.

Stan narrowed his eyes, taking a sip of his beer, and stared, refusing to be intimidated by their behavior anymore, by anyone like Craig.

"You—you wanna dance, Stan?" Butters asked.

"Nah, Butters, thanks," Stan replied, lifting his bottle to his lips.

"Oh... well," Butters stammered, still rubbing his knuckles together awkwardly from his spot pressed against Stan's side. Stan's eyes wouldn't leave the spot where Craig's hand was holding onto Kyle's jaw.

"Butters!" Bebe called from where she was dancing with Esther and Red. "Come dance with us!"

"Um..." Butters stalled, eyeing Stan warily.

"You go ahead and have a good time, Butters," Stan said. "Don't worry about me. I'll be right here."

"You sure?" Butters asked. Stan nodded.

"Well, okay. I'll be back real quick."

"Don't have too much fun!" Stan called after him with a smirk.

"I won't!" Butters responded earnestly. Stan chuckled and shook his head, but in the next second, he was once more focused solely on his red-haired ex-friend.

He'd thought of nothing else since Wednesday... well. It went further than that, only now was Stan admitting it to himself. Kyle was never off his mind. He'd never really been since Stan was a kid. It was an obsession. And Stan had never gotten rid of it, even though he'd tried. Really tried for three years. But it was impossible. Stan was fixated, possessed by a passion and possessiveness for one person and one person only. A person who was currently kissing someone else.

Stan swallowed down the rest of his beer.

It seemed that Tweek and Kenny had finished dancing, as the more spastic blonde stepped off the dance floor and made his way towards his friends, the other blonde no where to be seen.

Craig immediately pulled himself away from Kyle's lips, leaning back against the wall away from him. Tweek settled into the space they had left empty, and Kyle handed him a thermos.

They proceeded to do nothing but stand there for the next twenty minutes.

Were they completely lost by themselves without Kenny to tell them what to do? Stan snorted at that. Kenny couldn't be there every minute of every day. And Kyle had seemed to function well enough on Wednesday night.

And another thing, what was up with their whole relationship anyway? The three of them... it just didn't make sense. Craig would kiss Kyle, and Tweek would kiss Kyle, but when it was the three of them together it was like hands off. If they were really engaging in orgy-like behavior like Cartman had said, you'd think the three of them would try their hardest to engage in a three-way kiss, and yet Stan had never seen Craig and Tweek so much as touch each other. Craig always stopped whenever the blonde was near, and while Tweek was less conscientious about it, Stan had yet to see him so much as throw a glance in Craig's direction while he was with Kyle.

As if sensing Stan's gaze on him, Tweek turned and dropped his open thermos, spilling its contents across Craig's shoes. Craig cursed, or at least Stan thought he did, loud as the music was, and flipped him off. Tweek grabbed fistfuls of his hair anxiously, but Craig just waved if off and reached down to grab the spilled thermos. He took off in the direction of the kitchen, the blonde following closely behind him, but surprisingly, Kyle stayed behind.

His green eyes were gazing out into the crowd, though whether they took anything in, Stan couldn't be sure.

Stan meant to approach the redhead now that he was alone, but he was beaten to it.

Kevin had stepped in front of Kyle and was currently saying something. Stan froze where he was and watched. Kyle said something back, whatever it was prompting the jock to move in closer and Kyle to move back. The redhead couldn't be said to grow angry, but to Stan, it was as if irritation was crawling all over his body, by the way he kept his green eyes focused straight in front of him and his clenched fists against the wall behind him.

He shrunk even more against the wall, caged in as he was, and turned his face away when Kevin leaned right into his face. That was more than enough for Stan.

Striding over, he shoved Kevin to one side with his shoulder.

"Kyle!" he voiced loudly. "You promised me a dance!"

And he grabbed onto the redhead's wrist and dragged him out and away to the dance floor, getting the two of them lost to Kevin amidst the crowd.

"You wanted to dance?" Kyle asked, his eyebrow twitching just the slightest bit upward.

"Well, I'm pretty sure that's the last thing you wanted from Kevin," Stan said, though no, he wouldn't object to a dance.

Again, the higher powers seemed to tune into him because the track suddenly switched, and Rihanna's S&M blasted down on them.

Staring down at Kyle, Stan brought up a hand slowly and when Kyle didn't so much as blink, placed it on the redhead's hip. Kyle looked down at the limb, but didn't move to displace it. Gaining confidence from that, Stan gripped Kyle's other hip and moved in closer.

The redhead looked up at him, seemingly about to say something, but paused and then tentatively brought his hands up to rest on Stan's chest.

Permission granted.

Stan moved his hips, and Kyle moved with him, and suddenly they were dancing. Where Stan would move, Kyle followed, hips twisting one way, and Kyle's moving to match him. If he pressed in closer, Kyle would lean into it, the whole time their stares never once breaking away from each other, noses just barely brushing together with each gyration.

It was something of a mind twist, having Kyle here in his arms, bodies pressed tightly from chest to hips, legs intertwined, and the pulse of the music washing over them. Stan couldn't deny that it was the product of many denied fantasies. He knew he couldn't be anything other than gone, lost to the sensation and the atmosphere, sacrificed to this boy.

And yet, Kyle would do nothing but move with him. Each time Stan shifted to a different motion with his hips, Kyle would stumble to catch up. Stan didn't think he'd ever realized all those times he was watching Kyle with his friends, that Kyle had no sense of rhythm. He had to rely on Stan's sense of movement to keep himself going. It was endearing.

Still, Kyle only seemed to get more flustered, frustrated. He would jerk and throw them off, and it only made him move even more erratically. Stan's only consolation was that he was still staring fixedly up into his eyes.

Hey, he mouthed. Kyle's mouth twitched, and his eyes focused on Stan's lips. I got this.

Kyle nodded.

Suddenly feeling the rate that his own heart was beating, Stan inhaled deeply and threw himself into it. He trailed his hands up Kyle's sides and back down over his shoulders to rest on the small of his back. Kyle responded by wrapping his arm around Stan's neck, letting the other one fall to press against his hip.

Stan grinned slightly and pressed his hips into Kyle's, as far as he could go without toppling the rhythmless boy, and then he whipped his head around, keeping his forehead lowered to Kyle. Underneath his hands, Kyle was still moving his hips, so Stan pressed his fingers deep into the boy's body, the force so much that Kyle was pressured into keeping still. Just what Stan wanted.

One hand gripping Kyle's shoulder, the other firmly attaching itself to the back of the redhead's thigh. Awkward position as it was, it allowed Stan free reign to turn and grind his hips against Kyle's leg, forehead digging into Kyle's temple, so that he could have whispered in Kyle's ear if he wanted to. He decided that the tease of it not happening was more than enough.

Kyle gasped, and turned his head into Stan's, foreheads and noses pressed against each other, so that even if they wanted to look into each other's eyes, it would just drive them blind. Stan was fixed on Kyle's mouth. Occupied as he was with trying to get inside Kyle's body while their clothes were still on that when he was pulled away from the redhead, it threw off his entire balance and only a very lucky save stopped his from falling on his ass.

"What the—" Stan started, but Kenny was pushing into his space, glaring, causing Stan to step backward.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?!" Kenny demanded. "Stay the fuck away from him!"

"Wait—what?" Stan asked as Kenny grabbed Kyle and herded him away. "But--!"

Kyle let himself be dragged away, but not without turning back to glance at Stan.

I'm sorry, Stan mouthed. Really.

Kyle gazed at him unblinking until he was swallowed by the crowd.

"Goddammit!" Stan cursed.

"That was pretty hot."

"Huh?" Stan turned to Craig standing beside him.

"Do you think it got through to him?" he asked and then walked off.

"What the hell does that mean?!" Stan screamed after him, but his voice was lost amongst the noise of the party. Again, he was left standing on his own amongst the partiers, and again someone else was standing just behind him.

"Jesus Christ!" Stan yelled.

"Sorry!" Butters cried quickly.

"No, it's fine," Stan sighed, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. "It's just—fucking Craig! What the hell is it about him that allows him to hang out with them? He's such an asshole!"

"Oh, well Craig. He's together with Tweek," Butters answered.

"What? Craig and Tweek? No, that's impossible," Stan said, shaking his head.

"No, yeah, they're always together!" Butters exclaimed.

"'Cuz they're in the same group, Butters," Stan said.

"No, but it's different!" Butters insisted. "It—it just is."

Really, Stan couldn't see it, since they hardly touched each other, but Butters seemed so adamant that Stan let it alone. Also, he just really didn't have the energy to argue it.

The two stood there unspeaking for awhile longer until Stan could no longer stand the press of bodies and stalked off to a relatively calmer area of the room. Butters followed close behind him.

All the energy that had been pulsing through Stan at the beginning of the night just rushed out of him, leaving behind hunger, exhaustion, and a ridiculous headache. He couldn't bear to think about Kyle because it would inevitably make him think of Kenny and how he had just come out of nowhere like a jealous boyfriend. Which was completely insane. And then he would think of Craig, and his mood would deteriorate even more. And even thinking about Butter's comment about Craig and Tweek just caused even more confusion and a larger headache. So really, the night was another bust. Stan hated that he had bothered.

"What do you want to do now, Stan?" the blonde asked.

"I want to go home," Stan said.

Stan turned in a circle, face upraised towards the heat of the lights illuminating only him. Nameless shadows danced around him as an eerily enthralling beat pulsed through the air. The air was heavy with sex and danger, and Stan was so captivated, so lost in his own dance that it took him a moment before he realized there was someone pressed tightly against his back, matching the movement of his hips grind for grind.

Stan gasped and tensed, adrenaline jumping up a notch in fear, but hands gripped his hips tight, and the man pressed the hard outline of his desire into Stan. Stan gulped, scared, but at the same time so turned on he could do nothing but raise his arms to entangle fingers in the man's hair, bringing his face, his breath right up against Stan's ear.

He licked, and Stan shuddered, going weak in the man's arms, and allowing himself to be used, to be thoroughly seduced and twisted around this man's desire as they continued to dance themselves into mindlessness, like sex without having to take off their clothes.

Lips attached themselves to the skin just below Stan's jawline and sucked, prompting Stan to close his eyes and inhale. As soon as his eyes closed, he felt the weight of several pairs of eyes upon him, and he tensed once again, feeling too vulnerable while being watched in this intimate setting.

"Shh," his partner whispered in his ear. "I've got you."

Stan shuddered again, but swallowed his hesitancy and nodded.

"Keep your eyes closed."

The man nipped his way up Stan's neck, licking into the corner of his mouth, and roughly pulling Stan into a kiss, one hand braced against his jaw to hold him in place. A tongue pushed past his lips and invaded his mouth to trace every crevice possible. Stan whimpered and allowed his mouth to be plundered.

It took awhile before the murmur of voices penetrated the fog that had clouded Stan's mind, but it shocked him into tearing his mouth away. But the man just trailed his lips back down Stan's neck and attached himself firmly to Stan's collarbone.

Stan bit his lip and ground his hips back into his partner's, wishing their clothes were off, wishing they were alone. Because while he liked this, he really, really didn't. He felt the judgement of hundreds of eyes upon him, but he was too scared to open his eyes. Besides, hadn't the voice told him not to?

The man suddenly bit down on Stan's shoulder causing Stan to cry out and open his eyes. In the dark around him, figures had suddenly been illuminated, at first, unrecognizable, but as he became more aware, he realized he knew all these people.

The first he distinguished from the rest was Bobby, sweet blue eyes fixed on him with anger.

"Look at you," Bobby said. "Just look at you. You were always in love with someone else."

Stan gasped, but he couldn't move, caged as he was in the tangle of his partner's arms, a slave to this man's pleasure. He could only move on to the next figure in the dark. There was no relief to be found there either.

"You've always been good for only one thing," Victor grinned at him, dangerous and nasty. "See, Marsh. Sex is all you're worth being around."

And on it went.

"You're such a hypocrite," Cartman sneered. "A big faggy hypocrite."

"I can't believe I ever went out with you!" Wendy exclaimed.

"Don't," Stan protested weakly, but whether it was meant for the people staring at him or the one that was holding him still remained to be seen.

"I don't even know who you are anymore!" his mother cried.

"Mom..." Stan whispered. It hurt. For some reason, it hurt so much, even the way his partner was still attacking his neck had become painful.

Stan turned his face away, only it had become impossible to close his eyes, and the next image that assaulted his eyes was that of a small boy.

"No," Stan whimpered. Ike stared back at him with sad eyes.

"You let me down, Stan," the boy said.

"Ike... no," Stan said, feeling the wetness of unchecked tears start to fall down his cheek. "I'm sorry."

The boy shook his head and looked down.

"Ike..." Stan tried, but the boy's image had been replaced, and suddenly, Stan was pinned down not only by hands, but the force of angry, resentful blue eyes spearing him alive.

Kenny said nothing. Just stared. And Stan grew frantic under the gaze, feeling panic eat away at the inside of him, feeling disgust crawl up through his body and settle around him. It was too much.

"Shh," the voice said again, but Stan had to get away. He struggled within the grip of the man's hands, until he was finally able to get a hold of the man's body, turning to rip himself away from him.

Kyle stared up at him, green eyes gleaming with a thousand different emotions shining up from their depths. Stan inhaled sharply, arms trembling as his hands gripped the redhead's shoulders.

"Kyle," Stan breathed, shakily.

"Stan," Kyle responded, a smile lighting up his whole face.

"Fuck!" Stan gasped, eyes shooting open, heart pounding wildly in his chest as he looked around his room, half sitting up in his bed. His dick was throbbing hard in his pajama pants, but the fear that had gripped him in the dream was still coursing through his system.

Stan ran a hand through his hair and breathed slowly, trying to calm his heart. He collapsed back against his pillow and stared up at the ceiling.

"Fuck," he repeated in a whisper.

Slowly becoming more aware, Stan noted the time, his alarm glaring its bright numbers at him in angry red. Not even six yet. Stan clenched his eyes shut, but his blood was pumping too fast to fall back asleep.

He had fallen asleep with the TV still on, and it was droning True Blood's opening theme at him, a truly ridiculous song to wake up to. No wonder he was hard.

Deciding against staying in bed in the case that he might fall back into that nightmare he had been trapped in or worse, that he might get up to various activities to calm his horny state while that dream was still on his mind, Stan threw himself out of bed and proceeded to get ready for school.

He pulled himself into a pair of black skinny jeans and his striped red and black hooded sweatshirt with a black vest. Walking to his dresser, Stan harshly brushed through his messed tresses and flattened them as much as possible before taking his flat iron to them and systematically running it through his bangs.

When his hair was as straight as he could get it, he picked out one of his many eyeliner pencils and started to circle it around his eyes. Blue gazed unseeing back at him in his vanity mirror as he smudged the line, going back to thicken it and smudge it several times until practically identical rings of black surrounded his eyes.

Letting the pencil fall back to his dresser, Stan grabbed his messenger bag from the floor, and slung it across his shoulder, figuring he might as well walk to school since he was up so early.

He strolled down the hallway to the bathroom to take a quick piss now that his erection had gone down, and washing his hands, he glanced up at his reflection in the mirror, really taking in his appearance for the first time since he had woken up that morning.

Raising his hand, Stan lifted a strand of hair that was out of place in his bangs, catching sight of his nails and pausing. Staring, really staring, Stan took in his hair, his eyes, his nails, all blacker than black. He lowered his hand, stretching it out in front of him so that his fingers, his nails were on maximum display. He looked back into the mirror and swallowed unsteadily, breath catching in his throat, almost choking him.

He didn't recognize any of it, didn't even know who this person was. He'd been staring at a stranger for three years of his life, and he hadn't even noticed.

Who the fuck have I turned myself into?

Panicking, Stan scrambled for the tissue paper and wiped furiously at his eyes. The tissue tore at the dryness and spread the black across his face.

"Shit," he muttered and grabbed for the lotion, squirting too much out of the bottle. Trembling, Stan swabbed the rest of the makeup off his face, one hand bracing himself against the sink while he shifted unsteadily on his feet.

"Where—" Stan mumbled, knocking the contents of the medicine cabinet into the sink and spilling half the bottle of nail polish remover once he finally managed to open it.

He scrubbed frantically at his nails, almost chafing them red in his haste to see them clear. He couldn't remember the last time he had.

However, that still wasn't enough, and Stan had to still himself, just breath for a minute. His hair fell in front of his eyes in straight black lines, obscuring his vision of himself in the mirror.

Lifting the first lock of hair, Stan trembled, swallowing, and closed his eyes. The click of the scissors snapping closed was both a loss and a relief. Stan opened his eyes, and the rest after that was easy. He trimmed his bangs until he could finally see without having to brush them aside. His bangs fell uneven, shaggy across his forehead, more of a match for the short mess at the back of his head than the straight of before.

Stan stared at his reflection, both new and old, and slammed the scissors down against the sink with a soft thud. He leaned forward over the sink slowly, his breathing slow but heavy. Brows furrowing, Stan bowed his head, gazing into the mess of hair littering the sink and swallowed the bile rising in his throat and crumpled.

Tears streamed down his face silently, and Stan held his breath, desperate not to make a sound. He choked on a swelling of saliva in his mouth, but only allowed himself a couple of moments before straightening, swallowing and wiping at his eyes.

Stan gazed back at him in the mirror, broken or not, but it was Stan.

He left for school.

The walk was refreshing, the cold against his cheeks welcome as the breeze blew his hair off his forehead. He buried his gloved hands into the pockets of the coat he had unearthed from the back of the hallway closet. It was warmer than any jacket he had anyway. Unfortunately, his jeans and shoes didn't offer the same comfort, but nothing he owned did.

He was early arriving at school, the bus not even there yet, so he took his time going to his locker and walking to homeroom. Early morning clubs hadn't let out yet, so he didn't encounter anyone in the halls and was able to have first pick of seats in the classroom.

Settling himself in, Stan pulled out the item he had taken from his locker, staring at the black cloth and rubbing it between his fingers before finally pulling it on over his head, adjusting it forward so that it covered the mess of his bangs.

"Well, South Park," Stan said to the empty classroom. "I'm back."

Reactions to his appearance differed greatly throughout the day depending on person and time of day. Butters had seemed to take it all in stride pretty well, only expressing surprise at first, but ultimately declaring Stan very cute and blushing at Stan's thanks. Some of the more vain cheerleaders pronounced Stan to be unworthy of hanging out with them anymore, but Bebe and Red came up to him, winking and greeting him with flirtatious smiles.

Stan smiled weakly in response, and suffered through numerous other degrading comments until lunch where he warily made his way through the tables to sit down with the nerds, gripping his plastic lunch tray tight between his hands.

"Stan!" Wendy exclaimed, standing to enfold him in a hug. "Sit down."

"Thanks," Stan said, taking the seat beside her.

"Looking good, Stan," Ike smiled at him. Stan grinned and bowed his head, taking a bite of his sandwich to keep his mouth occupied.

"Eating non-Kosher food?" Ike teased. "I'm surprised. I thought that'd be too much for your stomach to handle."

Stan chuckled and swallowed.

"You'd think so, but my stomach has been growling for the last three years. I think I can handle it," he replied.

"Kosher?" Wendy asked, confused.

"Nothing," Stan said.

"Stan's been eating us out of all our kosher food," Ike said, grinning.

"Shut up," Stan replied.

"Did you seriously not know?" Ike asked. "I mean, our Mom was always making sure Kyle didn't eat too much sugar..."

"Well, he never talked about it, and I guess I didn't ask," Stan said, taking a thoughtful bite of his sandwich. "I knew about his diabetes, but no, I always thought you were Kosher."

"Well, I guess it makes sense. Kyle was always kinda ignorant about Jewish practices," Ike shrugged.

"Kyle was proud of being Jewish," Stan said.

"No, Kyle was defensive of being Jewish," Ike said. "He always wanted to be more like everyone else. More like you."

Stan pushed his food around his mouth and swallowed heavily, glancing down at his tray.

"I thought Kyle always ate the same thing as everyone else," Wendy said thoughtfully.

"He did," Stan said. "He loved to have junk food whenever he was at my house. It was going back home that he hated. No more sugar."

"Oh," Wendy said and returned to her meal.

Token, who had elected to stay silent since Stan had come to the table, finally put down his own meal.

"So what's with the image change?" he asked.

"Uh, random much?" Stan responded. Token shrugged, unapologetic.

"Just kinda sudden. Wondered if you'd had a crisis or something."

"I am still gay, you know," Stan said.

"Hey, I didn't mean anything by it," Token said, raising his hands.

"Really?" Stan said sardonically.

"Are you talking about the other time?" Token asked. "'Cuz I totally was not being homophobic or anything. It's just that with your look and everything, it was like you wanted to remind us all that you were gay, and we already knew that."

"So, you're saying I was acting too gay?" Stan said.

"Yes! I mean, no. It's just compared to everyone else..."

Stan raised an eyebrow.

"Well, okay. There are only two people who are really out. But everyone else still acts pretty gay a lot of the time," Token said.

"Oh my god, you're such a smartass," Stan said, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"Well, yeah," Token said. Ike and Wendy laughed. Despite his better judgement, Stan allowed himself to grin as well, but Token's answering smile was as much a relief to Stan as his earlier catharsis had been.

Stan looked over to Kyle's side of the cafeteria, but the redhead was buried inside a textbook, not even facing in Stan's direction. A feeling of disappointment swelled up inside of Stan, and he looked away.

Throughout the rest of the day, Stan paid more attention to the reactions his classmates had to his appearance and why they seemed to act that way.

In Government, Cartman seemed irritated, and took it out on the history of America's system of law and politics. This only further alarmed the already panicked and heavily caffeinated Tweek, who had taken one look at Stan and dropped his thermos of coffee in shock, crying out in dismay. Though whether that was any indication of how the blonde actually felt about Stan remained to be seen, since he did that periodically anyway. It was entertaining nevertheless.

In sixth period football, both the jocks and the coach responded better to Stan's suggestions, though they treaded carefully around him, treating him almost polite in a way they hadn't since he had become manager.

It was all very confusing for Stan who had become used to feeling like an outsider amongst everyone, out of place in their whole system. And in all honesty, nothing much had changed. But the way people were acting, it was like Stan had thrown them all off, and they were now the ones out of place.

Cheerleaders were flirting with him, jocks were respecting him, even Kenny wouldn't look at him in Sociology, staying on the other side of the room with the cheerleaders who could no longer stand to talk to him for whatever reasons.

"I'm sure they're just all real surprised," Butters said when Stan brought it up to him.

"I dunno," Stan mumbled. "It seems different than that."

"I'm sure it's nothing," Butters said, placing a comforting hand on Stan's shoulder.

"Yeah, it's probably nothing," Stan agreed, smiling at the blonde. But the proof was in Kenny's avoidance, and it gnawed at him until the final bell rang.

He paused outside of the classroom, watching Kenny bid farewell to several different students.

"Well, come on, Stan," Butters said from just a few paces in front of him. "You don't want to be late."

"You go on ahead, Butters," Stan waved at him. "I'll catch you on the field."

"Well, okay," Butters said doubtfully, but Stan had already refocused his attention on Kenny and began to trail after him as the blonde strode off down the hall. Everyone Kenny passed paused to greet him, and he treated them in kind, though everyone mostly ignored Stan, a few good paces behind the blonde, though they spared him many curious looks.

Instead of heading toward the front of the school, or even the lockers, Kenny made his way toward the back, where less students were milling about, and indeed, when he finally exited through the back door, there was no one else around. Stan exhaled heavily once before following the blonde outside.

"Why are you following me?" Kenny asked angrily from his spot a few feet away.

"Why are you ignoring me?" Stan countered.

"I'm sorry, I don't socialize with assholes," Kenny said harshly.

"Don't give me any of that," Stan replied just as angrily. "For weeks you've done nothing but glare at me, and now that I come to school without makeup, you decide I don't exist."

"I wasn't aware your existence was essential to my well-being. I'll try to remember next time that the world revolves around Stan Marsh."

"Cut the crap, Kenny!" Stan demanded. "What's changed? What's so different that you can't even look at me?"

"Sorry," Kenny bit out. "Maybe I just decided you weren't worth it anymore."

"I don't believe that," Stan said. "You're lying."

"Whatever," Kenny scoffed and turned around.


"Fuck off," Kenny said.

"I want to talk to you," Stan said, running after him.

"Well, I don't want to talk to you."

"Tough. I want to know about Kyle."

"He's none of your business," Kenny growled.

"I beg to differ," Stan retorted. "We were best friends."

"Exactly!" Kenny declared, spinning around to face Stan, bringing him to a stop. "You gave up your right to know anything about him years ago. I'm his best friend now."

"Wow, what a great job you seem to be doing," Stan said. "He keeps to himself, studies all the time, and has no personality. He's stuck in his own little world."

"Fuck you!" Kenny screamed. "I saved him!"

"From what?!" Stan screamed back. "Because from what I see, he's still pretty screwed up! Who knows what goes on inside his head? And not to mention that he's fucking around in some kind of orgy with the rest of your little gang!"

"Shut your damn face! How can you say that about him?!"

"Easy," Stan said. "When you're off doing god knows what with one of your fucktoys, he's getting molested by people like Craig—"

"You don't know what the fuck you're talking about," Kenny said, breathing angrily through his nose. "Do you really think Kyle is stupid enough to let himself be taken advantage of?"

"Honestly? I don't know what to think," Stan replied.

"He's the smartest guy in our class!"

"Oh, he's real smart, alright," Stan said.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing. Only that Kyle is very smart. But when he's feeling any strong emotion, like anger... or depression, he lets it get in the way of his common sense!"

"Oh, and you really think Kyle is acting with emotion right now?" Kenny scoffed.

"Of course he is!" Stan said. "Even at his worst, Kyle has always acted with emotion."

"I know that," Kenny defended. "Do you? You don't even know him."

"I know him well enough that it's pretty obvious his emotion can't possibly be happiness when he's behaving like a whore—"

Stan was cut off by Kenny's fist connecting with his face. He staggered back, almost tripping over his own feet and clutched at his eye. Kenny's knuckles were smeared with blood.

"Don't talk about him that way," Kenny whispered. "You have no right. The way you treated him... the way you treat everyone, using people when you need them then tossing them aside. Butters—"

"This has nothing to do with Butters," Stan said. "This is about Kyle. Kyle is loyal. More than you, and more than me. Definitely more than me. He believes in people. That everyone has good in them. He believes in staying faithful to the people he cares about. There's no way he is okay with whatever is going on at your stupid parties. He's not that kind of person."

Kenny said nothing, just kept his fists clenched as he stared at Stan. Stan stared right back. His eye was throbbing and already swollen, but all of his attention was riveted on the angry blonde in front of him.

Kenny breathed harshly for a few more moments before eventually breaking eye contact and sniffing, shifting his stance and rubbing at his nose with the back of his hand.

"Yeah, whatever," he muttered and turned around. "Forget this."

"Hey," Stan growled roughly, clearing his throat before trying again. "Hey!"

But the retreating figure did not look back. Stan clenched his fists, only just curbing the urge to shake them angrily in the air like an idiot.

"You—you coward!"

It was a lost cause. Kenny was already back to ignoring Stan, and Stan really didn't have the energy to go after him again.

"Godammit," he mumbled angrily, rubbing at the bridge of his nose, but he winced when pain shot through his swollen eye.

Stan sighed and walked over the side of the building, slumping against the wall.

"Now what?" he asked himself.

So many thoughts were running through his mind that Stan was just a bit too exhausted to make sense of it all. Which was funny because for the first time in a long time, Stan found himself actually wanting to think about it.

Stan laughed a bit hysterically to himself and pushed off against the brick, slowly making his way out of the school grounds and down the road.

Cars passed by him every so often, but all Stan noticed was the dull throb of pain piercing through his muddled head. He kept his eyes trained on his shoes as he walked, and tried to hold onto just one fledgling thought without it running away from him, but all of his fight had gone out of him after the scene with Kenny.

One thing he knew for sure though, he had made a huge mistake. When he had left South Park, left Kyle, he should have said something, should have tried to contact the redhead later, no matter the state he had left their friendship in. Kyle had deserved better than that. Better than his silence, his avoidance, and then his inexplicable uprooting without a word.

Why had he been such a coward? Because he had realized he was gay? That he was maybe just a little bit in love with his best friend? Stan snorted to himself.

Kyle wouldn't have judged him for any of that. But he had been too scared, too confused. He couldn't go to Kyle because Kyle was the problem, and he didn't know how to handle it, so he had avoided him, just stopped talking. And then left without a word.

I should have talked to him. Even if it was just to tell him I was questioning—no, he wouldn't have just taken that lying down. He would have wanted to talk about it. And I couldn't. But I should have. If only so we would still be friends now. 'Cuz he would have gotten it. He would have understood—



"Ike!" Stan breathed, broken out of his musings. "What are you doing here?"

"Uh, I could be asking you that," Ike responded.


"You're two blocks from my house," Ike said.

"What?" Stan said, looking around himself only to find that yes, Ike was right.

"Don't you have practice?" Ike asked.

"Practice? Shit!" Stan said, looking back the way he had come. He ran his hand distractedly through his hair. "Sorry. It's kinda been—"

"A long day?" Ike asked.

"Yeah," Stan said, smiling weakly. Ike nodded in understanding.

"Come on," he said, steering Stan towards his home. "I'll get you some of our kosher food."

"'Kay," Stan responded, too tired to even crack a smile.

"So..." Ike began. "Wanna talk about it?"

"Hmm?" Stan said, looking at the younger boy. "About what?

"About whatever you were thinking about?" Ike offered. "Or maybe how you got that black eye?"

At the mention of his eye, Stan brought up a hand to feel it, wincing when it sent another flash of pain through him.

"Shit! Uh... Yeah, about that..." Stan said.

"I mean, it was enough to get you to forget about practice," Ike said. "And to walk to our house."

"No!" Stan said quickly. "I wasn't—I mean I didn't realize I was... I wasn't going to bother you with this."

Ike gazed at Stan in silence for a few moments as they continued walking. It was a bit unnerving.

"You can be a real idiot sometimes, Stan," he finally said.


"You would never be a bother," he said. "Not to me. You were always my brother, Stan. You just forgot it. And so did Kyle."


"It was because of you that he was such a good person," Ike said, talking over him. "You're good for him."

Stan stared, open-mouthed but couldn't think of what to say. The two continued to walk, lost in their own thoughts until they reached Ike's house. Stan paused on the sidewalk.

"Ike," he said quietly. The young boy turned to look at him. "You really think that?"

"I know it," Ike said, conviction radiating out of him from somewhere deep within. "I've always known it."

And just like that, energy flooded back into Stan, even more than he had for years. He smiled, feeling more like himself than he could ever remember. More confident, ready. And all it had taken were the worlds of one eleven-year old boy.

Ike smiled at him.

"Come on," Ike chuckled and led the way inside the house.

Inside it was quiet, typical of Ike and the new Kyle, but not so characteristic of their mother. She was always bustling around with something to do.

"Is your mom here?" Stan asked, setting his bag down by the sofa.

But before Ike could answer, there were steps coming down the stairs.

"Ike, Mom went out. She said to tell you—"

When Stan looked, Kyle was staring right at him.

"Your eye," he said. Stan moved towards the stairs, the younger Broflovski already forgotten.

"I want to be friends again," Stan said. Kyle blinked.

In the background, Stan might have heard a door closing, but it was of no importance at the moment.

"You're bleeding," Kyle eventually said.

"Kyle, please," Stan said in earnest, moving as close to the redhead as he dared. He took faith when Kyle didn't move away. However, it wasn't enough.

"I want us to be friends again," Stan repeated.

"I heard you," Kyle said quietly.

"So?" Stan asked intensely. The redhead's eyes burned with something Stan couldn't decipher.

"So why are you bleeding?"

"Kyle," Stan grumbled. "I've been an ass. I'm still an ass. You were the best thing that ever happened to me, and I didn't deserve it. I was the worst friend imaginable... But I'm hoping you'll let me prove that I'm not like that anymore."

Kyle continued to gaze at him, eyes traveling over his face, his swollen eye, just taking in his appearance. Something must have drawn him in because Kyle closed the distance left between them, staring up at Stan's face and slowly raising a hand to ghost the outline of Stan's injury.

Stan shuddered, but didn't move. It was like the redhead was still asking a question, but Stan didn't know how to answer, or rather, he didn't particularly want to.

"It was a misunderstanding," he whispered in regards to his eye. Again, Kyle was silent, but as he gently placed his fingertips against the edge of Stan's eye, it was like he was finally acknowledging him.

"Okay," Kyle said and led him to the kitchen to get him patched up.

Chemistry was always a pain. For one thing, it was right before lunch, so the anticipation was distracting enough even for the more diligent students. In this case, Stan also had to put up with three-fourths of Kenny's gang. It was beyond unpleasant to be constantly subjected to Kenny's random glares, Tweek's panic attacks, and Craig's general indifference or amusement. Still, they mostly kept to themselves, and Stan was usually too busy trying to not blow up his experiment to bother with them.

Stan rested his head in his palm from his seat behind the lab table and gazed blankly forward as the teacher finished up her lecture. A glance at the clock showed just five minutes left of this torture. From across the aisle, Stan noted that Tweek was still stressing that the thermos Craig had snuck in for him had gotten confiscated only two minutes into the period, not only resulting in no coffee for the blonde (which Stan was pretty sure Tweek would have felt too pressured to bring into the lab himself anyway), but also a detention for the stoic teen. Tweek had freaked out and blamed himself. Craig had just flipped the room off.

In any case, just as the class started packing up early to leave, the teacher announced a new project assignment, which had everyone groaning in unison.

"Do we have to do this now, Ms. Moreau?" Kenny asked with all the charm he could muster. "I wouldn't want any of the assignment confused because of the transition to lunch."

"I'm just assigning partners, Kenny. I'll give you all the details next class."

"Okay," Kenny said cheerfully enough, though his expression was just as dismayed as the rest of the room.

"You'll be working together for two weeks, and I'll want pairs to sit at the same table. Got it?"

The class assented in various degrees of weariness.

"Okay... Christophe?"


"You'll be paired with Mandy."

Ze Mole started muttering angrily in French, glaring around the room while Mandy looked on in giggly excitement, which was weird considering Stan didn't think the girl had ever paid the French boy a second glance.

"Clyde, you're with Tweek."

"Okay," Clyde replied in his nasally voice.

"Gah! Oh jesus! That's too much pressure!" Tweek cried, pulling at his hair. Craig narrowed his eyes and glared at nothing in particular.

Stan tuned out as the teacher paired off Jimmy and a few others, watching the outcast table as Craig continued to brood, going so far as to ignore Tweek's new panic attack, which was something Stan hadn't seen Craig do before. Craig was always pretty considerate of his friend's paranoia, if not the most reassuring.


"Huh?" Stan said, jerking to look at the teacher.

"Your partner's Craig."

"What?!" Stan exclaimed, while across the room, Craig had a similar reaction.


Stan traded glances with the other boy. Craig looked as unaffected as ever, though he still spared time to flip his finger at both Stan and the teacher.

"Oh god, no," Stan muttered, feeling his eagerness for lunch dissipate into a sullen dread as Ms. Moreau went on to pair Kenny with Millie.

Why did it have to be Craig? That fucking asshole. Stan would have even preferred having Kenny over Craig. At least with Kenny, he could stand a fighting chance, but Craig was such a smug asshole that it was impossible to talk to him.

"Godammit," Stan grumbled, dropping his head into his hands as the bell finally rang for lunch.

"Ow ow ow ow!" Clyde cried.

"Oh, calm down, we're almost finished," Stan griped, leaning his weight down just a bit more onto Clyde's stretched leg. "It's your damn fault for messing up your hamstring."

"It hurts!" Clyde whined, eyes screwed shut.

"Yeah yeah," Stan said, pressing down once more before moving back, allowing Clyde to finally lower his leg. The teen slowly sat up from where he had been laying on the bench, wincing at his tender muscles.

"I'll get you some ice," Stan told him, moving to the back of the deserted locker room to where they kept the ice chest for such kind of emergencies.

"Hey, Stan?" Clyde said.

"What?" Stan answered, turning.

"Well... thanks."

"No problem," Stan said, nonplussed.

"You didn't have to," Clyde said. "Help me, I mean."

"Uh, yeah I did. It's kinda my job."

"Well, yeah, but we haven't been really accepting of you so far," Clyde replied, eyes cast down on his leg.

"I figured it was just your whole system thing doing its work."

"Cartman's system. Yeah, I guess."

"Cartman? He started this whole thing?"

Clyde shrugged.

"I thought you knew," he said.

"No," Stan replied. "I didn't."

"It was that summer after you left. Everything was suddenly different without you around, and Cartman just took over. He said we had to join the team if we wanted to stay popular, and well, I guess that just got to me," Clyde said, still looking down.

Stan stared at the teen as he processed this new information. So this had all happened because of Cartman? What else did the fatass do that summer?

"Is that why you fought with Craig?" Stan asked instead. Clyde looked up in surprise.

"Yeah," he said. "He didn't want to abandon Tweek and Token when they didn't make the team, but I wanted to stay. So he hit me."

"Yeah, I heard," Stan said. "Heard it was pretty big fight."

"Yeah," Clyde chuckled unhappily. "Worst I've ever been in. I forgot how well Craig can kick someone's ass when he actually gives a damn."

"And so now he's angry that you're paired with Tweek after you abandoned him?" Stan asked.

"I guess," Clyde shrugged. "But I didn't mean to, you know. I just—"

"No, yeah, I get it," Stan said.

"I guess that makes me a bad person, huh?"

"Nah," Stan said, waving it off. "Cartman can be pretty persuasive."

"Yeah," Clyde smiled, eyes watery with unshed tears.

"Oh, god, don't cry on me," Stan said. Clyde let out a surprised bark of laughter. "Lemme get you that ice, and we'll go back onto the field before the fatass has the chance to mess up any of my new plays."

"Okay," Clyde agreed and wiped at his eyes.

"Hey, Stan?"

"What now?" Stan sighed and turned back around.

"I'm glad you're back in South Park," he said.

"Oh," Stan said, before clicking his mouth shut. He nodded in lieu of something else to say and quickly went to get Clyde's ice before the teen could say anything else that might bring up unwanted emotions inside of him. Freaking Clyde.

Butters walked with Stan as they left the school grounds after their practices.

"So what are you gonna do now, Stan?" Butters asked. "Head home?"

"God no," Stan replied. "Ever since I stopped wearing makeup, my mom has been acting crazy. Well, crazier than normal. I think she's happy that I'm finally acting like a boy, but she's worried that anything she says will set me running for my eyeliner. She even asked me if I was still gay."

"Well, what did your dad say?" Butters asked.

"Nothing," Stan snorted. "He just patted me on the back and gave me a twenty."

"Well, that was nice of him!" Butters said.

"I guess. Anyway, I'm gonna head to the diner and get myself a coffee. Wanna come with?" Stan asked.

"Ah, gee," Butters said, rubbing his knuckles together and looking distraught. "I really wish I could, but if I don't get home right after practice, my parents will ground me."

"They still do that?"

"All the time!" Butters said.

"Man," Stan said, shaking his head.

"But I really want to!" Butters insisted.

"Yeah," Stan said smiling. "I'll catch you later, 'kay?"

"Okay," Butters said despairingly, looking after Stan with longing.

"I'll talk to Mandy for you! I'm sure she'll come around!" he called. Stan raised a hand in acknowledgment and kept walking.

He hadn't had a coffee since breakfast, when his mom had happily set down a stack of pancakes in front of him. Stan had finished the whole thing. However, lunch had been coffee-free, and Stan was craving some caffeine.

Entering South Park's principal diner, Stan paused when he caught the attention of the goths, all staring at him with their dead, kohl-rimmed eyes.

Ignoring them, Stan stepped up to the counter.

"Look, it's that douchey little ex-wannabe goth poser," Red Goth said.

"I guess he got tired of pretending to be goth and went back to his conformist ways," Henrietta replied.

"Man, what a lame loser," Curly Goth said.

"Yeah," the youngest agreed.

Stan turned to stare at the table, but the goths didn't even bother looking away. They just stared back and continued talking about him.

Stan pinched the bridge of his nose and went back to ordering his coffee, but as the waitress left to place the order, he felt his irritation bubble up.

"Jesus Christ! Get over it, will you?!" Stan yelled, startling another waitress into dropping her tray of food.

"Shit... um... sorry," Stan stammered and leaned down to help. The waitress waved him off irritably.

"Freaking conformist," Red Goth said.

Stan scowled.

Fuck this. I'm going to Harbucks.

And he left. Only to be faced with a completely different kind of challenge.

"GAH!" Tweek cried from behind the counter when he walked inside. Craig flipped him off and went back to drinking out of his paper cup.

"Ah, dammit," Stan muttered, but stepped up to order anyway. He could always get it to go.

"Wh—what can I get you?" Tweek practically screamed, twitching so badly that his Harbucks hat almost fell off while his hands twisted furiously into his apron.

"Just a coffee," Stan said, setting a ten on the counter. "Is that possible?"

"Jesus Christ! I think so!" Tweek said and turned to get the drink, almost falling over himself in his haste to do so.

Stan stood awkwardly next to Craig as the boy leaned against the counter, casually sipping at his drink. He stared at Stan silently, raising an eyebrow when Stan gave him a look.

"What?" Stan asked.

"Nothing," Craig replied, but smirked anyway.

Stan grumbled to himself, but turned away, leaning forward eagerly when Tweek returned with his coffee.

"H—here you go," he bit out, placing the coffee down with surprisingly steady hands. When he reached to take Stan's money, they started shaking once again.

"Thanks," Stan said, sipping idly at the hot liquid.

"Didn't want anything fancier?" Craig asked.

"Not really," Stan said, thrown by Craig's attempt at conversation. He wasn't the most talkative of people even at the best of times. "What's it to you?"

"Chill out. It was only a question," he said.

"Whatever," Stan replied, accepting the bills Tweek handed over. "I gotta get out of here."

"Knock yourself out," Craig said while Stan walked to the door.

Kyle was just walking in.

"Kyle!" Stan exclaimed, already redirecting his path to compliment the redhead's. "Hey, how are you doing?"

"Stan," Kyle greeted, if not enthusiastically, then civilly at least. "I'm good."

"What are you doing here?" Stan asked.

"Picking up Tweek for tutoring," Kyle answered. "How's your eye?"

"Better. Loads better. Thanks for everything!" Stan said. Kyle just nodded.

"I didn't realize you were tutoring Tweek," Stan said even though he vaguely recalled Wendy telling him so when he had first arrived.

"Yeah, he's got a few learning disabilities that make it hard for him," Kyle said. "I'm just helping out."

"That's great!" Stan replied, feeling just the slightest bit jealous of the twitchy blonde for getting to spend all that time with Kyle. Stan himself was being tutored by Butters.

"You ready to go, Tweek?" Kyle asked as he neared the counter.

"Jesus Christ!" Tweek cried. "Is it time already?!"

"It's almost six thirty," Kyle said.

"Six thirty?!" Tweek screeched, grasping at his hair and actually knocking his hat down this time. "My shift ended at six!"

"Why didn't you tell me?" the blonde asked of Craig. Craig just glowered and flipped Tweek off.

"Weren't you at detention?" Kyle asked.

"So?" Craig responded, flipping the redhead off.

"Oh man! Oh jesus! What if they meant for me to stay here all night until I forgot I didn't have to work anymore and then I had to stay and work here for forever?! Jesus Christ, I'd never get out of here! Gah!!" Tweek screamed.

"Just clock out and get your stuff," Kyle said. "We'll head to the library."

The blonde twitched uneasily, but went to do what Kyle said.

"I thought you were studying at your house," Craig said to Kyle.

"He freaked out last time when my mom asked him if he wanted to stay for dinner," was Kyle's response.

"What about Tweek's house?" Stan wondered.

"His parents aren't really conducive to a studying mood," Kyle replied.

"Gng, I'm ready!" Tweek said, coming out from behind the counter, back in his street clothes.

"I'll come with," Craig said, pushing off the counter, cup still in hand.

"Me too!" Stan hurriedly agreed. "I could use more help with some stuff."

"Oh god, that's too much pressure!" Tweek cried out, shaking his head frantically, not only at Stan, but at Craig too.

"You'll just be a distraction," Kyle responded to the two of them.

"But--!" Stan started.

"I'm a distraction?" Craig asked, with just the slightest hint of bitterness in his tone.

"I could help!" Stan tried.

"No," Kyle said firmly.

Stan gaped at the redhead while Craig scowled at the wall by his side and flipped them off.

Kyle walked off towards the exit, Tweek following behind closely, fingers gripped tight around his normal thermos. Stan and Craig gazed after the pair as they strode down the sidewalk just outside the window.

"Damn," Stan muttered. "Think they've got a reason for wanting to be so alone?"

Craig tensed up beside him and turned to glare at Stan, the first real look of antagonism since Stan had come back. Without a word, he flipped Stan off, and stormed out the door.

Stan stayed unmoving in his spot for a while longer as Craig left him. He thought of how Craig was always where Tweek was, how he cleaned up his spilled coffee for him and moved around his house like it was his own. He saw Craig pushing away from Kyle whenever Tweek came up to them kissing, and how Craig glared whenever someone became too involved in Tweek's business. It was like something had come together, and suddenly Stan was off, running after the stoic teen before he could get too far away.

"Oh my god, you're in love with Tweek!" he exclaimed loudly when he finally caught up with him.

Craig's eyes widened for a second before narrowing in anger.

"Fuck off," he said, not even bothering to lift his finger at Stan.

"No, this is good!" Stan insisted happily ignoring the danger that was growing as he kept talking. "You've been jealous of Kyle this whole time! Not Tweek!"

"Fuck. Off." Craig reiterated.

"But I don't get it," Stan went on. "If you're in love with Tweek, why have you been fooling around with Kyle?"

"Because maybe he's more like his old self in those moments!" Craig snarled, stopping in his tracks beside a bench to get in Stan's face.

"Oh, please," Stan replied, rolling his eyes. "You mean to tell me you're just being a noble hero? You're not that selfless."

"I thought I told you to fuck off," Craig growled. Stan ignored him.

"What about Tweek then?" Stan prodded. "What's his excuse?"

"Don't talk to me about Tweek," Craig warned, blue eyes sparking with fury. The hand holding his coffee cup was clenched tightly around the paper, only barely crushing it out of shape.

"But I know you're in love with him," Stan said. "God, why didn't I see it before? It's so obvious!"

"I said shut up!" Craig yelled, hand with coffee cup thrusting down towards the edge of the bench. Stan flinched backwards in face of the inevitable explosion of hot liquid, but before it could happen, Craig stopped himself. Inches from the wood, Craig gently placed the cup down, fingers trembling slightly as he withdrew his hand, clenching it into a fist before releasing it and dropping it back down to his side.

Watching this happen, Stan felt sad all of sudden, though sad for himself or sad for Craig, he didn't know. He stood in silence and watched as Craig slowly composed himself once more, wondering why he had never realized just how easy it was to understand the other guy.

"Dude," he whispered. "Who else does Kyle like to get alone?"

Craig gazed blankly at Stan, just blinking as he stared, the gears seeming to be turning in his head.

"No one," he finally answered. "Just Tweek."

Stan's heart dropped into his stomach, and he sat down heavily on the bench, gripping the edge of the rough wood between his gloved fingers. Craig settled himself down beside him, and together they just sat and bled for a while.

The equipment in front of Stan stared up at him as he gazed back down at it, mocking him for his lack of comprehension about exactly what the hell he was supposed to with it. Stan glanced at Craig beside him at the lab table on the off chance that the other boy had managed to figure it out first, but Craig had given up already and was staring across the room where Tweek was coping better on his assignment with Clyde. He stared sullenly at the pair and sulked in a way that looked nothing like sulking, eyes widened the tiniest bit and his teeth biting into his lower lip. Stan knew better.

On the other side of their lab table, Christophe had done something with the rubber tubing thing and one of the glass containers that Stan had already forgotten the name of, but before Stan could copy the boy's seeming achievement, the Frenchman cursed and yanked it apart, throwing the items down in a huff of frustration. His partner Mandy had moved to the far end of the workspace as far as was possible, discreetly texting on her phone under the table and shooting Christophe dirty looks whenever she thought he wouldn't catch her. He wasn't paying her any attention anyway.

"Man," Stan complained, picking up a mass of wire shaped in the form of a rectangle. "Where does this even go?"

"On your head," Craig said, finally turning away from his observation of Tweek and Clyde to face Stan. "I think you're supposed to connect it to that other metal thing. The one with the hole going down the middle."

"Wait, you mean this thing?" Stan picked up the instrument and hefted it before his eyes. A piece of rubber tubing was dangling from the bottom.

"Uh, yeah," Craig said, staring at the tubing with the same unease Stan was feeling.

"Right," Stan said, looking back at the rectangle wire thing. He brought his hands together and tried to attach the two items by mashing them against each other.

"No, wait," Craig said, reaching out to grab the rubber attachment. Stan let go so the rest of the heavy instrument hung down, threatening to collapse against the table. Craig threaded the rubber through one of the many holes in the wire Stan was holding, but then paused at a loss.

"Uh, do you think we need to attach this to something else?" he asked Stan.

"My god," Christophe groaned in exasperation. "You are both ridiculous stupid in zis. Zat is a rack for ze test tubes. Morons."

"What, this?" Craig asked, wrenching his instrument away from Stan's.

"Watch it!" Stan warned.

"Ze ozzer one!" the Frenchman sneered. "How did you two even pass ze fifth grade?"

"Hey!" Stan protested. "I earned my C just like everyone else!"

Christophe didn't dignify that with a response, just went back to jerkily assembling his station.

"Wait, so what is this?" Craig asked, waving his fistful of rubber and dangling metal attachment in the Mole's direction.

Christophe kept his head down and started muttering quickly in French.

"Just forget it," Stan said, tossing his wire test tube rack down on the table and sitting back on his stool in a huff. "I'd probably just blow up everything anyway."

"Do that a lot?" Craig commented, also giving up his instrument and sitting down.

"Like you wouldn't believe," Stan said. "Back in San Diego, my friend Dean would explode everything put in front of him if it was more complicated than mixing water and oil. And his father was a scientist! Now I don't even know which one is the flask and which one is the beaker."

"That was your boyfriend, right?" Craig asked blandly. "Dean?"

"What? No," Stan said. "Did Kenny tell you that?"

"He mentioned you had a boyfriend," Craig shrugged. "I wasn't really paying attention."

Stan quietly seethed.

"He was probably talking about Victor," Stan said, glancing toward where the blonde was happily chatting away to Millie.

"Your boyfriend?"

"Not my boyfriend," Stan stressed. "It was just a thing."

"But you did have a boyfriend," Craig stated.

"For like two months," Stan said, narrowing his eyes at Kenny's turned back.

"What was it like?" Craig asked. Stan turned to him, eyebrows raised. Craig just stared at him with dull eyes.

"It was okay, I guess," Stan said shrugging. He looked at their mess of a lab table and saw hours spent with Bobby making out in the dark of some random party. He could easily envision a mess of paler blonde tresses and red hair in its place, and he glanced quickly at Tweeks lab table. "I take that back. It was hell. Two months of hell. The only thing worse than that has been submitting to the freaking system in this school."

"Right," Craig said.

"How did you get mixed up in all this?" Stan asked. "I can't imagine you just going along with any of this crap willingly."

Craig narrowed his eyes.

"It wasn't my choice," he said. "But I couldn't do anything about it."

"Cartman—" Stan stared.

"He may have started it all, but it was everyone else who followed him," Craig said with disgust.

"Exactly!" Christophe interjected vehemently from over his network of rubber tubing. "Zat fucking fatass. It is his fault zis whole thing began. But if it hadn't been for ze stupid fools at zis school, we wouldn't be living zis nightmare."

"So why did you go along with it then?" Stan asked him.

"I did not!" Christophe said angrily. "I was just made part of it by ze other people because zey were scared pussies. Now, zere is a pansyass smug asshole bitch following around me everywhere, and zat faggy boy-demon and his pet orphan are always with ze kissing and ze fucking naked groping, and I can't stand it! I hate zis fucking school, and everyone in it!"

Stan gazed at the scowling teen, mouth slightly agape.

"You've seen naked groping?" Craig asked.

"Did you even hear anything I said?" Christophe demanded.

"Not really," Craig said.

Christophe scoffed in French and returned to his experiment.

"Naked groping?" Stan said to Craig. Craig flipped him off.

"Craig Tucker!" Ms. Moreau yelled from the front of the room. "Don't flip your finger at people! Detention!"

"Dude," Stan said when the bell finally rang for lunch. "Do you ever go a day without getting detention?"

"When else would I do my math homework?" Craig replied, picking up his backpack and slinging it over his shoulder.

Walking to the door, Stan paused just outside, but when Craig kept on moving, Stan looked behind him unsurely. He found Tweek staring right at him, shivering gently, his wide muddy hazel eyes unblinking.

Stan quickly turned back around and hurried after the blue-clad teen. He debated whether it was worth Craig's possible wrath if he brought up the subject of Tweek, but ultimately decided against it. They had an uneasy truce formed by mutual understanding, and Stan was loathe to break it so soon, even though it was highly likely he could get valuable information about Kyle if he did ask.

The two of them stopped at their lockers before heading to the cafeteria, where Kenny was waiting with Kyle and Tweek at their usual table. Since Craig didn't say anything, Stan just continued to follow him, even though Kenny was turning red, probably from holding his breath in anger.

"Where the fuck did you go?" Kenny growled at Craig when they finally reached the table.

"To my locker," Craig said, monotone as always, taking his usual seat next to Tweek. Tweek flinched when he sat and knocked over his coffee. Craig stared with what Stan was sure would have been shock if he hadn't known that Craig had checked all his reactions with such a tight control on himself.

"So why did you have to go with him?" Kenny snarled, pointing his chin in Stan's direction.

"None of your business," Craig replied calmly.

"Excuse me?" Kenny asked, mouth gaping open incredulously.

"You're excused," Craig said.

Kyle had been staring passively as all of this unfolded, one of his books open and forgotten on the table. Stan watched him carefully from his spot where he still stood, and grasped his chance when Kenny was struggling with what to say.

"Hey, Kyle," he said softly. The redhead turned his gaze to him.

"Hey," Kyle replied, nodding his head.

Stan smiled at him.

"You left Tweek on his own!" Kenny finally came back with.

"I'm sorry," Craig said, the first hint of emotion coloring his tone. To Stan, it was pure danger. "I thought you'd be able to handle it without me this once just fine. You do it often enough even when I'm here."

"What are you even talking about?" Kenny demanded.

"Nothing," Craig replied, voice emotionless once more. On his side, Tweek was shivering violently, eyes twitching rapidly between his two friends with panic.

"No, I want to know what you meant, Craig," Kenny said, almost civilly, though Stan could hear his barely checked anger.

"Figure it out," Craig said.

At this point, Kenny turned his glare onto Stan.

"Don't think I haven't noticed what you've been doing," he said.

"Okay?" Stan said slowly.

"Get out of here," Kenny spat. "Go sit with some other table that doesn't want you."

"Kenny..." Kyle said softly, but his friend paid him no mind.

"Whatever," Stan huffed, rolling his eyes before focusing them on Kyle.

"I'll see you later, Kyle," he said. The redhead turned wary eyes onto him before nodding mutely. It wasn't what Stan would have wanted, but it would do for now.

"Bye, Craig." He turned and started walking away, back to where Wendy and Ike were sitting.

"Don't think we aren't going to talk about this," Kenny hissed at Craig as Stan left. He wasn't exactly quiet about it.

"About what?" Craig retorted. "I didn't realize you controlled who I could and could not talk to."

"Tweek is your friend!" Kenny snapped. "You should be looking out for him!"

"Tweek can handle himself," Craig said, finally with noticeable anger in his voice. "He doesn't need anyone else to do it for him."

Stan heard the screech of a chair skidding back on its legs and glanced back to see Craig standing up, hoisting his backpack onto a shoulder and stalking after Stan.

"You sure you want to leave Tweek by himself with them?" Stan asked cautiously. Craig clenched his fingers around one of the straps of his bag, but stared straight ahead.

"I'm not his keeper," he grit out, narrowed eyes the only thing giving away his anger.

"But you want to be," Stan said softly. He watched as Craig blew out his breath heavily, pausing before his next inhalation to calm himself.

"It doesn't matter," he said steadily, and left it at that. Stan stared at him for a while longer, subconsciously aware that they were causing a scene by just standing in the middle of the cafeteria, but not caring.

"Okay," he finally said and started walking. Craig followed him. "I'm going to sit with Token and them."

"Okay," Craig said blandly, back to his calm, unaffected manner.

"Hey guys," Stan greeted as he came upon his usual table. "Mind if Craig sits with us?"

"Oh, sure thing!" Wendy exclaimed, somewhat unsure, but friendly enough. "Take a seat, Craig."

"Hey, Craig," Token greeted. "How ya' been?"

"Fine," Craig said.

Stan settled down and returned Ike's smile warmly. The boy passed him half of his sandwich.

"Thanks," Stan said and glanced back at the other side of the room where the rest of the outcasts were still sitting.

Kenny was glaring sullenly at the table, while Kyle spoke to him softly, one hand on his shoulder. It didn't seem to be helping.

Stan started slightly when he noticed that Tweek was once again staring in his direction, unusual as it was for the spaz to devote any amount of focus on just one thing, but as Stan kept watching, he realized that those hazel eyes were fixed solely on Craig.

Stan turned his own eyes back to the table, but Craig wasn't looking anywhere in that direction. He was gazing dully at Token who had started a dialogue where mostly he talked and Craig listened, every once in awhile giving a noncommittal response. Looking back at Tweek, Stan watched as he continued his unwavering stare.

He never once took his eyes off Craig for the rest of lunch.

After practice, Stan found Craig waiting for him outside the locker rooms.

"You didn't have to wait for me," Stan said, just a bit thrown off.

"I had detention anyways," Craig shrugged.

"Oh, right," Stan replied. After an awkward beat, they fell into step together.

Leaving the school grounds, they both automatically turned to head towards Harbucks. A few seconds after they had made the decision, Craig's step faltered before he regained himself. Stan cleared his throat awkwardly.

"Didn't you run into Clyde outside of the locker room?" he asked.

"I guess," Craig said.

"That means?" Stan prompted.

"It means that I saw him," Craig said with a glare.

"Sorry," Stan said, raising his hands.

"Whatever," Craig responded. "He just panicked and took off when he saw me anyway."

"Well, you don't exactly give off the most friendly attitude," Stan said.

"So?" Craig asked.

"You know, he's really sorry about it. All of it."

"Then he shouldn't have ditched his friends when it was most convenient for him," Craig said irritably.

"It happens sometimes," Stan said, looking at Craig, but seeing something else entirely. "Not everyone is strong enough to do the right thing, especially when it counts the most. They get scared. But that doesn't mean they don't regret it later. Probably more than anything."

When Stan came back to himself, he caught Craig staring at him and quickly glanced away.

"And the hardest part," he continued. "Is living with your actions after you've done it. Forgiving yourself. Because other people will, and if they don't... then it's nothing compared to the damage you're already doing to yourself."

Craig said nothing, and when Stan finally looked at him again, the boy was staring straight ahead, his brows furrowed slightly.

They continued to walk in silence for a while longer, which Stan was surprisingly comfortable with. If Craig had anything else on his mind, he didn't share it, and Stan didn't really expect him to.

"Well, I don't really want to end up at Harbucks again," Stan eventually said, bringing the two of them to a stop.

"Yeah," Craig said.

"Later," he said. Craig nodded and walked off. Stan was either impressed or saddened that Craig was still walking towards Harbucks. Maybe both.

On the way home, Stan kicked at bits of snow, ignoring the cold wet that seeped into them. Craig still threw him a bit. It wasn't in his personality or behavior, but the way he reacted to what you gave him. Still, maybe it made sense.

Stan didn't begrudge Craig for trying to keep things simple. It was just a bit harder to erase the image of the teen kissing Kyle out of his mind.

The dull burn that was forming in his chest suddenly vanished when something small and furry barreled into his legs, knocking Stan onto his back in the snow.

"What the--?" Stan started, looking down at where a mangy little dog was attacking his shoe laces. Stan's heart melted.

"Aww," he crooned. "Look at you!"

Stan lifted the dog easily with one hand.

"Where did you come from?" he asked the dog, running his hand down the furry little body. "You don't have any cuts, but look at what a mess you are! Have you been eating out of the trash? Oh my god, you're so tiny!"

The dog struggled only slightly, trying to get back at Stan's laces. Stan happily unlaced one shoe for the dog to play with.

"You're a good little girl, aren't you?" Stan said, setting her on the ground. He assumed she was a girl for her lack of manly bits. The dog just gnawed at his shoe lace, wagging its tail.

"So where's your collar, huh?" he asked her as he lay back in the snow, letting her settle on his chest with her prize. "Who'd let you wander around outside in the cold like this?"

Stan bit the finger of one glove so he could run his hand through her fur. It wasn't exactly soft or clean, but it was thick enough to brush his fingers through. He just laid there and pet her, grinning ridiculously up at the sky.

"You're such a good, good girl," he said.


Stan shot up from his position quickly, arms cradled around the furry little body. Ike was staring down at him with a bemused expression on his face.

"You've really got to stop sneaking up on me like that," Stan said.

"It's a gift," Ike grinned, looking down at the wiggling little body in Stan's arms. "Did you find it?"

"Uh, yeah," Stan said. "Well, she kinda bowled me over."

"The great Stan Marsh," Ike said. "Taken down by a puppy."

"I was not taken down," Stan said.

"You were lying in the snow," Ike countered.

"She was cold!" Stan exclaimed.

"Aren't you cold too?" Ike asked.

"Well, kinda," Stan said, feeling the wet of the snow seep in through his thin jeans. He really needed to buy some new ones soon.

"Come on. Let's get her to a shelter," Ike said, offering his hand to help Stan stand. Stan took it.

"We should take her in, huh?" Stan asked morosely, tightening his arm very slightly around the little dog.

"Come on," Ike said again softly, leading Stan down the street. He didn't let go of his hand the whole way there. Stan was exceptionally grateful.

The clock never failed to keep moving forward, though Stan kept dreading as the second hand continued to move on. And yet, at the same time he wished it would speed up to the end of the night so that he could at least know whether it was okay to curl up underneath his covers with maybe a comfort call to an annoyed Victor or if he could get drunk in celebration.

"If I didn't know any better," Clyde said to him from where he was stretching out his leg. "I'd say you were nervous."

"I am nevous!" Stan told him.

"You're not even on the team! What do you have to be nervous about?" Clyde asked.

"Failure?" Stan offered. "Humiliation? I may not be on the team anymore, but I'm still part of all this. If you lose, it'll be on me too."

"You've done your part, Stan," Clyde said reassuringly. "Just leave it to us now."

"Maybe I could have done more," Stan muttered.

"You practically retrained us from scratch!" Clyde exclaimed. "If we don't win this game, it'll be because we were too stupid to catch on or because the other team was just that much better."

"I am part of the team though," Stan said quietly, eyes trained on the floor of the locker room.

"If you say so," Clyde said.

"Alright, let's head out!" the coach yelled. Stan tensed up, his heart pumping loudly in his ears and his stomach turning itself over and over.

"Marsh, you're with me," Coach said, and Stan reluctantly made his way to the man's side. Clyde slapped him heartily on the back on his way past.

Heading outside, first thing, Stan was blinded by the lights of the stadium and then next deafened from the roar of the crowd. Squinting to get his bearings, Stan checked out the stands and was dismayed to see that the visitor's side was packed to the fullest, putting the home side to shame.

"Wow," Butters said when he came over to greet Stan between cheers. "I've never seen it so full!"

"Yeah, Charleston really brought out a hell of a lot of support," Stan said disconcertedly.

"Well, I was talking about us!" Butters exclaimed. "This is the most I've ever seen come to see the Cows!"

"Oh god, really?" Stan asked. "We don't even fill up half of the stands!"

"Well, yeah, but it's a lot better than normally."

"Why doesn't that make me feel better?" Stan said to him.

"I think this just shows how much everyone believes in the Cows now!" Butters said. "You shouldn't worry, Stan. You've been amazing for the team. They won't let you down. And just look at all our support!"

"Why did we have to play against a team called the Charleston Chewbaccas?" Stan mumbled as he reluctantly scanned the stands again. "That's such an awesome name. And we're just the Cows. What kind of high school names their mascot the Chewbaccas anyway?"

"Look, there's Kenny!" Butters said, pointing and waving. Stan quickly turned to where Butters was gesturing.

He found Kenny staring sullenly out into the field, not noticing how Butters was trying his hardest to get his attention. However Stan might have felt about that, he was more focused on the people sitting beside Kenny.

"They came," Stan breathed and finally started to smile.

Ike was waving from his seat just behind Kyle and Craig, hopping slightly so that he could be seen. Stan beamed and waved back. Wendy and Token were sitting with him, though Token's presence was seemingly alarming to Tweek, who was sitting in front of him as with every twitch of his head, he would scoot closer to the edge of the bench. Craig was pointedly not watching this happen.

"Well, that's a first for sure," Butters said, though he was grinning wildly.

"On multiple levels, I'm guessing," Stan said. Butters nodded enthusiastically.

Still, Stan couldn't help looking up into the stands again, feeling a rush of nerves and giddiness flash through his body then vanish.

"Let's do this," Stan said, turning back to the field with determination.

"Woo hoo!" Butters shouted, pumping his fists in the air.

"Stanley, honey! Over here!"

Startled, Stan looked back into the stands. His mother was waving excitedly while his father aimed the old camcorder at him.

"Go, Stanley!" Sharon cheered.

"Oh god, really?" Stan said. "I'm not even on the freaking team!"

But his scream was drowned out by the swelling cheers of the crowd as the two teams finally took their positions on the field. Stan pinched his nose, ignoring his parents and concentrated on the players while Butters ran back to the rest of the cheerleaders.

The coin was tossed into the air, and the Chewbaccas got the ball. Stan felt a spike of nerves hit him again, but he pushed it aside, staring intently at the field. Nothing was going to distract him from this game.

"Cartman!" Coach yelled. "Get your eyes back on the field! You can bet your ass that there ain't anything half as interestin' as how my fist will be buried in your stomach if you don't keep your pansy-ass eyes focused on them Chewbaccas!"

It was then that Stan noticed Cartman hadn't been paying attention to the coin toss at all, and while the underclassman kicker was doing his thing, Cartman was still watching the crowd intently.

What is he doing?

Cartman quickly turned back to the game, but the Chewbaccas had already grabbed the fallen ball and were crossing the fifty-yard line. And of course, sensing their fearless leader's distraction, the rest of the team proved their mindless idiocy by falling completely apart. Not one managed to tackle burly Chewbacca Number 84 before he managed a field goal.

Stan felt his stomach plummet dangerously, but he somehow managed to plaster a painful grin on his face when Coach turned to him incredulous. This was the same expression he gave the team when they turned to look at him in anguish as Cartman screamed in anger and kicked at the field grass.

"It's only the beginning!" he cried to them, clapping in encouragement. "There's nothing to worry about guys!"

Only there really was. The total disaster of a start had really messed with the team's dynamic, and Cartman wasn't helping by chewing out anyone who managed to fumble a move, even if it had been on him. The first half went by like a painful nightmare.

"Godammit, Eric!" Coach shouted. "What the hell is wrong with you?! Do I have to beat it through your thick skull who the enemy is?!! 'Cuz it sure seems like you're still getting it wrong!"

Stan was watching from his spot a little ways off, eyeing Cartman as the guy ground his teeth together and clenched his fists back at the coach. Stan grimaced a smile at Jason as he walked past, but turned his attention back to the game once the coach had moved onto another player.

Cartman sneered when he caught Stan watching him.

"Fuck you want?" he said.

"Nothing," Stan shrugged. "Just wondering if you've finally pulled your head out of your ass."

"What did you say you pansy-ass—"

"Oh, shut it, Cartman," Stan sighed. "Look, you've been off your game all night. And I'm only gonna say this because I kinda have to, even though I really don't want to. I don't like you right now. You've always been an asshole and from what I can tell, you probably had a lot to do with why the school has gone to shit and who knows what else."

"Ay!" Cartman began.

"I don't know what your problem is," Stan said over him. "But you're a leader now. You may not be a very good one, but you wanted it, and now you can't escape from it just because things are going to shit. But if there's one thing I know about you, it's that you want to save face, and you avoid looking the loser whenever you can. So listen to me. Really. Whatever's eating at you, snap out of it. You have a game to win. A girlfriend to impress. There's no time for anything else."

Cartman gazed at Stan for awhile in outraged silence, mouth slightly hanging open.

"Did you just give me a pep talk?" he asked incredulously.

"Was there Journey playing in the background?" Stan retorted. "Don't get used to it. You're still a fatass, even if you're missing all the fat."

"Yeah, well you're still a pussy," Cartman said.

"Yeah, I figured," Stan smiled.

"So, what do I do?" Cartman asked grudgingly.

"Just listen," Stan said, gesturing Cartman into his space as they both lowered their heads to speak quietly. They probably wouldn't be able to win, but maybe they could stop themselves from being horribly slaughtered by the end of the game. "So this is what we're going to do..."

When they finally won the game, Stan didn't know whether he or the coach was more shocked. At 25 to 23 it was a close call, but of course, Cartman was nothing but smug smirks as Bebe threw herself into his arms, squealing with victory.

"You did it!" Butters exclaimed happily, and Stan was so wonderfully astonished that he didn't protest that it wasn't him, and allowed Butters to pull him into a tight hug.

"I knew it," Butters whispered excitedly. "I knew it."

"Yeah," Stan pulled back, grinning just as hard as his friend. "Thanks, Butters."

And before he knew what had happened, Butters leaned in and kissed him square on the mouth, brief, but firm.

Stan spluttered incoherently, but Butters just giggled as he pulled away, a bright red blush staining his cheeks. Stan felt equally as red.


"Stan! Stan!"

Stan turned only to be bowled over by Wendy, as she wrapped him in her own tight embrace.


The girl was laughing and chattering far too quickly for Stan to understand her.

"I can't believe it, man!" Token said when he ran up behind them, reaching out to clasp Stan's hand in manly acknowledgement.

"I can barely believe it either," Stan chuckled, still amazed himself, as Wendy finally let go of him. "I thought for sure after the first half..."

"But you guys did it!" Ike exclaimed, and Stan happily pulled the younger boy into a hug when he caught sight of him.

"Yeah, we did," Stan said.

Letting go of the boy, he glanced up to see Kyle standing there, a small smile on his face. Stan's breath hitched at the sight of it.

"Good job," Kyle said, and his words were enough for Stan to duck his head, hiding his happy grin.

"Ahh!" Tweek cried, causing Stan to look up to see the rest of Kyle's gang join them. Craig nodded once at Stan, which was more than enough to make him grin with pride, and though Tweek did nothing more than twitch nervously beside him, it was better than where Kenny was standing a few paces back, arms crossed and seething.

"Thanks, guys," Stan said to everyone gathered around him, ignoring Kenny for the time being.

Bebe took that moment to crash into the midst of the group, giving both Butters and Stan quick, hard hugs.

"Oh my god, you guys! We totally have to celebrate!" she said, practically vibrating with enthusiasm. "Party at my house right now!"

"Wasn't there going to be a party anyway?" Stan asked.

"Well, yeah, but now we've got a reason for it!" she replied.

"You all better be there!" she demanded to the group, forgetting herself and her role in the system for once, before promptly turning and flouncing off to accost another group nearby.

"Right," Stan said into the stunned silence of the group, prompting Wendy to grin and laugh, already ushering Token away.

"We'll see you there, Stan!" she called behind her shoulder. Stan nodded and waved after her.

"Let's go," Kenny muttered darkly, coming up behind Kyle and taking his elbow.

"Uh..." Stan panicked. "See you there, Kyle?"

"Yeah," the redhead replied, allowing himself to be steered away. Stan felt a rush of relief flow through him, even as something awful clawed at his stomach as he watched Craig and Tweek trail after them.

"Bye, Stan," Ike waved cheerfully, jogging to catch up to his brother.

"Bye," Stan uttered lamely.

Butters shrugged from beside him, cocking his head with a grin when Stan raised an eyebrow.

"There you are, Stanley!"

"Oh no," Stan said and turned around. His parents descended upon him in that way only parents can do, his mother pulling him into a hug while his dad stuck the camcorder in his face.

"We're so proud of you, Stanley," his mom said, and even though every cell in his body was telling Stan he should be irritated by this, he wasn't. Not at all.

"Thanks, Mom," he said quietly, bringing up his arms to hug her back.

"So..." Butters interrupted nervously. "You coming to the party, Stan?"

Stan looked inquiringly up at his mom.

"Go ahead," she smiled, and let him go, kissing his cheek.

"Yeah, we've got that uh... trip planned anyway," Randy said, eyes shifting mischievously.

"What trip?" Stan and his mom asked at the same time.

"You know! The trip!" Randy gestured wildly. When Sharon continued to stare blankly at him, he sighed and grabbed her arm, pulling her away, muttering. "Just once can we not be responsible adults?"

"But Randy! What trip?!" Sharon cried.

"Bye, Stan!" his father called, waving back at him while he still held the camcorder. "We'll be back Sunday night!"


Stan rolled his eyes.

"Let's go," he told Butters, knocking his shoulder against the blonde's playfully, and speeding off in the direction of the locker rooms.

Half an hour into the party, Stan lost sight of Butters when the cheerleaders pulled them into a huge dancing orgy. Stan had managed to painfully extract himself from their clutches, but Butters wasn't as lucky.

He'll probably be okay... I hope.

Still, as one of the girls let out an inhumanly pitched happy shriek, Stan winced and walked as quickly away from the group as possible, sending Butters positive survival vibes.

However, Stan hadn't been fortunate enough to escape the girls before he had been doused with a good amount of bright green glitter. Shaking his head, Stan felt like a dog as a cascade of sparkles exploded from his hair to collect at his feet.

Snagging a mostly full glass of something off a side table, Stan wandered around until he found what he was looking for. Well, objectively what he was looking for.

Craig had taken up a corner of one room, and was avidly watching where Tweek was dancing with Kyle. He had a beer bottle clutched in one hand and two more empty ones at his feet. Stan felt pretty sure they were his own.

"Hey," he said, joining Craig against the wall and knocking back more of his own glass.

"See that?" Craig gestured to the dancing.

"Yeah," Stan murmured against the rim of his glass. "Looks like they're having fun."

Craig scoffed and took a long gulp from his bottle.

"Like they know how to have fun," he muttered darkly. "They're the most incapable of having fun pair that I've ever met."

"Are you drunk?" Stan asked.

"Not yet," Craig answered, suddenly straightening up when Kyle and Tweek started in their direction.

"Hey," Stan nodded, smiling at the duo.

"Hey," Kyle said, nodding back with a small smile. Tweek just twitched violently and leaned against the wall on the other side of Craig.

"Oh god! Did you drink everything?! What about us?!" he cried, looking down at Craig's empty bottles.

"Get your own," Craig intoned dully.

For a moment, no one said anything, just stood and let the rest of the party flow around them. Then it broke in a flutter of movement, Stan downing the rest of his glass, Tweek shuffling nervously while Craig dropped his newly empty bottle to the ground, and Kyle glanced away, seemingly uncomfortable.

"You want something?" Stan finally asked Kyle, taking a step in the direction of the kitchen.

"Yeah," the redhead said and moved to follow after him. Stan glanced quickly back before he left, but Craig seemed just as stumped as Stan that Kyle hadn't decided to stay behind with Tweek.

"So, what'll you have?" Stan asked upon entering the kitchen.

"What are you having?" Kyle asked curiously.

"I don't even know," Stan said, looking down into his empty glass.

Kyle made a noise in his throat like he was holding back a laugh, and Stan couldn't help but smile up at him sheepishly. He set the glass down quickly and started rummaging through the fridge for a simple beer or something. Behind him, Kyle was silent.

"You seem to like dancing," Stan said lamely, as he moved onto the freezer when the fridge proved useless. Jackpot. He pulled out two chilled bottles and held them up triumphantly for Kyle to see.

The redhead smiled quickly and nodded his okay.

"It's okay," Kyle answered, watching as Stan pulled off the caps. "I'm kinda bad at it."

"I dunno," Stan said, handing over a bottle. "I enjoyed it."

Kyle blushed lightly and glanced down at the floor.

"Thanks," he said, though whether it was for the bottle or the suggestion, Stan didn't know.

"I meant it, you know," Stan said quietly. "About being friends."

"I know," Kyle said, looking up at him. "That's why I went to the game."

"I thought you went 'cuz I invited you," Stan said, playfully trying to lighten the mood. "For all I know, Ike dragged you along against your will."

"He didn't," Kyle said quickly, forcefully. A second later, he broke their gaze. "I would have come anyway."

"Okay," Stan grinned happily. Kyle glanced back up at Stan again, lifting one corner of his mouth slightly.

"Let's head back out there?" Stan asked, tipping his bottle at Kyle's invitingly.

"Yeah," Kyle answered, mouth spreading into a full-blown smile as he tapped his own bottle against Stan's.

Out in the main room, Stan caught sight of Craig quickly, still in the spot Stan had left him, though his body had tensed up considerably in the time he'd be gone. And it was no wonder, with what looked like a drunken Kenny up in his face saying god knows what.

"And oh god! It's like he's suddenly the king all over again just because he's back and gayer than ever."

Stan paused, anger rising in him, but Kyle who froze completely. Tweek was shaking visibly, and Craig only glanced once in Stan's direction before narrowing his eyes at an oblivious Kenny.

Kenny spun precariously on his heel and caught sight of them standing there.

"Kyle!" he exclaimed, grin wide and forced on his face. "Dude, that was some sexy grinding earlier with Tweek? I know I didn't teach you that."

Kyle tensed up further and averted his eyes to a spot by Craig's shoulder. Tweek twitched violently.

"You guys gonna get back out there? I'd love to see some more," he leered.

"Shut up," Craig growled at Kenny, but the blonde ignored him.

"Come on, Kyle! I wanna watch you!" Kenny lurched forward for Kyle's arm, but the redhead pulled back quickly. "What the hell, Kyle?"

"Dude. Back off," Stan warned. "He doesn't want to."

"Kenny, I think we should go," Kyle said softly, nodding toward the door.

"What? Dude, no!" Stan turned quickly, knocking into Kenny when he moved after Kyle.

"Watch it, assfuck!" Kenny snarled, shoving Stan back.

"Kenny..." Kyle said.

"You watch it! We were having fun and you... Kyle, you don't have to go," Stan pleaded softly.

"Hey, he said it himself," Kenny sneered. "He wants to go. It's probably because he can't stand being around your testicle shooting rectal warted ass an—"

"God, can't you ever shut up? He can speak for himself. Stop treating him like he's a child!" Stan interrupted.

"He can't speak for himself, you fucking freak! Don't you have eyes? So I'm doing it for him. And I say you need to—"

But Kyle was taking off in the direction of the stairs. Stan pushed passed a still-ranting Kenny and headed after him. If Craig and Tweek cared, Stan didn't notice.

He followed Kyle up, and seconds later the redhead closed one of the many bedroom doors behind himself.

Stepping up to the door, Stan took a few breaths before knocking quietly. All he really wanted to do was slam in.


"Go away, Stan," Kyle murmured through the door.

"Kyle, I..."

"I know you want to help, but can you leave me alone right now?"

Stan sucked in a painful breath.

"No," he hissed out, wrenching the doorknob around and stumbling when it actually opened, a harshly breathing Kyle just behind the door.

"Stan, please. I promise we can still be friends or whatever you want—"

"No, Kyle," Stan closed the door firmly behind him, shutting the light out and bathing the room in darkness. "I don't really know what happened before, but you've spent too long hiding everything away. Talk to me."

"I don't--- know what to say," Kyle said after a moment.

Frustrated, Stan tugged off his jacket and threw it behind him.

"Come on, Kyle. You've always had an opinion about everything. Has that really changed now? Why do you let him get to you this way? Why are you so upset?"

Kyle moved suddenly, walking further into the room, away from Stan.

"I don't want to talk about it," he said quietly.

"Why does it mean so much to you?" Stan asked, stepping up behind him..

"Stan..." Kyle said, voice stronger.

"Look!" Stan said, huffing a laugh. "You're already getting more emotional."

Then he paused, breathing in slowly, taking in Kyle's scent. "

But is it because of him? Is it me? Or something else?"

"Stan, I said don't," Kyle warned.

"I could help you," Stan said quietly. "I want to help you. Let me."

"It's not you," Kyle huffed, turning around, one hand sweeping erratically through the air. He startled a step back at Stan's closeness, green eyes opening wide, and inhaled quickly.

"Then?" Stan prompted, eyes zeroed in on Kyle's face.

"I... need to be able to breathe again. On my own," Kyle whispered, each word slow and measured, thinking about it. He looked... really sad.

"I can make it all go away," Stan said, and pressed his lips to Kyle's.

For a moment, Stan felt Kyle start to kiss him, but then he was pushing at Stan's shoulders, trying to pull back, twisting away and shoving Stan backwards. For a second, Stan gripped his shoulders tight, but quickly let go.

"Sorry, I—I'm sorry," Stan whispered to the top of Kyle's lowered red hair. He gripped his fists together while Kyle shivered... out of anger, fear, or maybe something else entirely.

When Kyle finally looked up, it was only for a second, before he looked away and pushed passed Stan towards the door.

"Kyle, I—" Stan spun after him.

The light from the hall momentarily blinded Stan into stillness. Then he was running after him.

He didn't have far to go.

The redhead was standing stock still in front of two wide-eyed blondes, one hand over his mouth, just watching Kenny and Butters watch him. The four of them stood and said nothing for a long moment, hardly even breathing, until Kyle once again moved, suddenly pushing his way through the two in front of him and down the stairs.

"Kyle," Stan breathed, following again. That's all he seemed to be doing tonight.

However, once he was down in the midst of the party, it was impossible to keep track of Kyle's vibrant red hair.

Stan circled the house once, and then again when he went too quickly the first time. He wanted to go through one more time, but was already getting complaints from the people he kept pushing aside.

"Okay, Mole!" Stan yelled at the irate Frenchman. "I get it."

Christophe started speaking angrily in fast French while Gregory watched on with a smug smile curving around his lips. Stan huffed in exasperation.

"It is more subdued upstairs if you would prefer," Gregory mentioned idly.

"What?" Stan asked in a mood, nervous energy buzzing through him.

"You appear distracted. Perhaps if you had a calmer environment, your mental capacity would increase," the Brit said, glancing briefly at Stan before returning his attention to his fuming friend.

Stan took a moment to decide whether he had been insulted or not, but ultimately decided it wasn't worth it. He had better things to do, and anyway, Gregory was always insulting you, even when he wasn't.

"Right," Stan said quietly, taking off at a jog when Gregory started giggling manically.

Upstairs, it was quieter, but before Stan could even begin to wrap his mind around anything that would help him find Kyle, he was distracted by Kenny, who was glaring a hole between his eyes over the head of the quietly sobbing Butters he had in his arms.

"Butters?" Stan moved toward the pair. "Hey, what's wrong?"

Butters pulled back from Kenny and wiped hopelessly at his eyes, but when Stan went to put an arm around his shoulder, Butters jerked away from him.

"What's going on?" Stan asked when Kenny easily placed his hand on Butter's hitching shoulder.

"I think you should leave now," Kenny said, quiet, but dangerous.

"No... no, it's okay, Kenny," Butters hiccupped. "Me and Stan should talk."

Stan felt his stomach drop out of his body.

"No way," Kenny said forcefully.

"Please... just..." Butters stuttered. He moved quickly towards the room from before, Stan following slowly behind him.

"I'll be waiting right here," Kenny interjected, and Stan gazed at him for a long moment, before closing the door gently behind him.

Butters silhouette was trembling from his spot on the edge of the bed. Stan took a few timid steps towards him, but when the blonde began to cry again in earnest, Stan moved quickly to his side.

"Butters... I don't—" he started.

"Think I always knew how you felt about Kyle," Butters interrupted, sniffing loudly. Stan felt a pang in his chest and lowered his gaze. "But I still let myself believe that maybe you could... for me..."

"Butters..." Stan said, stopped and swallowed back the responsibility he felt trying to burn its way up his esophagus. He looked at Butters and tried again.

"You've been—the best friend I could have had since I've been back. You helped me. So much. And I think I've turned out better because you've been around. I really needed that. I needed you. To be my best friend. And I... I'm not the best at showing it, but I've been trying—trying to show how much I appreciate you and how much I want you to be around. I just... I'm not..."

"I know," Butters said. "But it hurts."

"I'm sorry," Stan murmured. They sat there for a while, not talking, and Stan kept his hands to himself, even though every sob Butters couldn't hold back had him aching to put his arms around his friend.

"I. Need to be alone for a minute," Butters said eventually.

"Yeah, okay," Stan said, standing. "I'll... see you later."

Butters let out another low sob, and Stan hurriedly left the room.

Outside, Kenny was leaning with arms crossed, against the wall beside the door, and he glowered when Stan walked out.

Stan rubbed his hands against the side of his legs.

"You could probably go in now," he said awkwardly. "He said he wanted to be alone, but that was probably just... you know."

With one last glare, Kenny carefully stepped inside the room and shut the door behind him. Stan sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, taking a deep breath before walking down the stairs.

Almost immediately, he ran into an angry looking Craig, rummaging through abandoned bottles and glasses and swallowing when he found any liquid.

"Dude, what the hell?"

Craig didn't bother looking at Stan at all as he moved abruptly passed him towards the kitchen.

"Hey," Stan said, grabbing at Craig's arm. "Dude!"

Craig growled and turned to get in his face.

"Tweek left," he said.

When Stan just stared at him, Craig scowled further.

"He went after Kyle!"

"Oh," Stan said, letting go of Craig's arm. They stood for a moment, not really looking at each other, then Stan preceded Craig into the kitchen.

"We should get wasted," he said.

Craig only grunted in agreement.

It wasn't until Stan fell onto his back that he realized he had run into something hard.

"Ow?" he said, spilling the bottle of whatever he had in his hand over the floor.

Craig giggled just a bit manically and dropped down beside Stan, leaning half of his weight on Stan's prone form.

"I think... I can't breathe," Stan said.

"Oh," Craig said.


They both cracked up.

"We need music!" Stan said, sitting up and nearly knocking Craig in the chin. "Do you have music?"

"Don't' wanna get up," Craig mumbled into Stan's shoulder.

"But dude!" Stan whined.


Stan let himself fall back on the floor, the quiet of the dark house, the warmth of the alcohol, and Craig's weight on his body bringing a furrow to his brow.

"Can hear you thinking," Craig said, hot breath hitting his skin and sending shivers down Stan's spine.

"Shuddup," Stan said, ineffectually pushing at Craig's shoulder to get him away. "You think too much."

"Wha?" Craig snuffled into his neck.

"Can't be—believe didn't see how into Tweek you are."

"Screw off," Craig said, but it was so quiet, Stan barely even heard it.

"You and Tweek," Stan murmured into the air, taking a precarious gulp of what was left of his drink. "I don't even know—"

"Man, 'member when we were kids?" Craig asked, sitting up and staring at Stan in earnest. "I was such a freak 'bout Thomas!"

"Yeah, man. You did his laundry!"

Craig nodded then dropped back down, fitting himself against Stan's side.

"Wasn't anything. Just me being ironic."

Stan giggled. "Ironic."

"It messed up stuff with my friends," Craig said solemnly.

"Hmm?" Stan tilted his head, taking another gulp of his drink.

"He punched Thomas in the face," Craig said, staring unseeing at Stan's jaw.

"Tweek?" Stan asked.

"It was amazing," Craig breathed.

"Dude," Stan said, mouth stretching into a smile.

Craig grinned.

"He's got balls. Doesn't look it, but he does. When pushed, he'll go after what he wants. Just doesn't always realize he can..." Craig trailed off into silence, blinking slowly.

"You watch him a lot," Stan said quietly.

"I've never gone after anything in my life. Never wanted anything. Nothing important." Craig tensed up against Stan.

"But you want him," Stan said, tilting his head to look at the other teen. "Go after him, Craig."

"...can't," Craig whispered, holding his breath, body tight against Stan's.

"Why not?" Stan asked, shifting so he could look into Craig's eyes. Craig stared resolutely at Stan's chin.

"Why?" Stan asked again, quieter. Craig shifted his gaze down to Stan's torso.

"'M afraid," he mumbled.

Stan said nothing for a moment, just thinking.

"So was I," he said softly.

"It was so easy," Craig said slowly. "To fall for him. I was only twelve... Just let it happen. Hard part was hiding it."

"You did a good job," Stan told him.

"You found out," Craig replied, glancing up at him.

"I was looking for it," Stan said. "Wanted to know why you would... with Kyle."

Craig shifted awkwardly against him, but Stan wasn't paying attention.

"It wasn't easy for me," he said.

"Falling for Kyle?" Craig asked.

"It was so fucking hard," Stan said, face crumpling. Suddenly, he couldn't hold anything back. He felt hot streaks roll down the sides of his face. It felt good. Right. Painful. "He was my best friend, and I screwed it up 'cuz I wasn't ready to fall for him. I just wanted to be a kid, but look how well that went! I freaked out, treated him like shit, ran away, and now he can't even stand me. I kissed him and he ran away! Should have been more like you. More like Tweek. I—"

Then the tears came too hard for him to talk. It wasn't right anymore. He felt like he was choking. Sounds were coming out of his mouth. Ridiculous noises, but he couldn't stop them. He eyes were squeezed shut as if he could stop the tears that way, but all it did was make more tears leak out. He dropped his grip on his drink to bring his hands up to hide his face.

Craig was still pressed against him from what Stan could tell, his fingers awkwardly running through Stan's hair.

Stan shook his head and shifted into Craig's embrace. Once enveloped, he lost himself in the hurt wracking through his body.

He wasn't aware of being shifted or moved, of Craig's voice murmuring quietly or when an additional presence appeared. He heard nothing of the hushed argument that took place over his shivering frame or when he had started freezing in the first place. His mind seemed so overheated compared to the cold of his body and he tried to make sense of where he was and what was happening, but all he could really focus on was red hair and green eyes.

"Kyle," he breathed out, starting to feel feverish and too warm. "'M sorry, Kyle."

It took a while before he registered the warm water falling around his shivering body. He thought he felt someone holding him up under the water, but the idea left him before he could wrap his head around it. All he could feel was the heat.

"Was scared, and didn't—know what to do," he said, talking to Kyle, trying to get him to understand. Wet hair fell in front of his eyes when he tried to open them.

"Messed up. I messed up so bad," Stan lurched forward and felt a wash of cold against the front of his body. Goosebumps started to form on his skin.

"But I'm so sorry," Stan said, hands fruitlessly pushing at the cold wall. He shifted backward into a warm presence and stopped moving. Just leant his forehead against the cool surface and let the warm cascade of water shower over him.

"It's just that I miss you," he whispered into the tile and passed out.

When he next became aware, Stan was lying on something soft, blanketed on either side by two solid heats. He blinked open his eyes and made out a sea of blue and black in front of him, a bare arm wrapped around his waist from the back, before closing them in exhaustion.

"Craig," he whispered, mouth feeling dry, words slow and hard to form. The mass in front of him shifted slightly.

"Why?" he asked. "If not Kyle, then why?"

Stan felt Craig breathe deeply, in and out.

"I was jealous," he said quietly, pausing for a second. "And I didn't know what to do."

Stan said nothing and before he knew it, he was asleep.

Stan slowly woke, groaning when his stomach made itself known to him, aching with hunger. He writhed in pain, twisting the sheets around him, but it took several moments before he could put enough effort into thinking for him to realize he was alone.

The room was alight with the sun shining through the sheer curtains. The bedspread was striped blue and white, and there was a guinea pig staring at him from across the room in its cage next to its water bottle.

"Fucking Craig," Stan muttered and sat up slowly in case of an oncoming headache. The sheets slipped down his body, revealing his naked torso. Stan quickly crossed his arms over his chest.

His stomach gave another twinge of extreme hunger, and Stan groaned in sympathy. He was covered in beads of sweat sticking to his body, and he vaguely recalled suffocating in a sweltering heat sometime last night. Or was it early this morning? Either way, Stan was in desperate need of a shower. And food. Lots and lots of food.

Gingerly, Stan pulled himself out of the mess of twisted sheets, debating what to do first. As he was clad only in boxers, which were definitely not his, Stan raided Craig's drawers, finding a pair of loose pajama pants and a sleep shirt before heading downstairs where he heard the faint murmuring of voices coming from the kitchen.

"Dude, your house is so clean," someone was saying. "Why don't we ever have parties here?"

"Fuck off," the other person growled and Stan recognized him as Craig. Stepping into the kitchen, he found his friend with his arms curled over his head, a plate of toast on the table next to him, and one finger extended out at the blonde talking to him.

"I'm serious!" Kenny said, looking way too sober and happy for Stan's taste.

"Uh, what the hell is going on?" he interrupted, voice more hoarse than he thought it had the right to be.

The conversation stopped, and Craig grudgingly lifted his head to peer up at Stan still standing in the doorway.

"You're awake," Kenny said. "Feel okay?"

"Um... not really?" Stan responded, feeling too slow to deal with an angry blonde this early in the whatever time it was at the moment. Only Kenny didn't seem to be angry. Why wasn't he angry?

"Toast?" Craig offered, voice so low it sounded like an old man grumbling.

Stan stood there.

"Go ahead and eat," Kenny said, sliding a plate of toast in Stan's direction.

Hesitantly, Stan grabbed a piece of toast and started nibbling on it, keeping his eyes on the blonde in front of him. When Kenny started buttering more toast, Stan allowed himself to scarf the bread down.

It didn't taste much like anything, and really didn't do much for his stomach either, but he grabbed another one and took smaller bites.

Kenny glanced up at him, lifting the corner of his mouth slightly, blue eyes twinkling and warm. Stan tensed, but said nothing.

"I called your parents," he said. "Told them we were sleeping over."

"Fucker," Craig muttered without any real heat in his voice. Kenny grinned at him, chuckling.

"Did I miss something?" Stan said after he finished his second piece of toast.

Kenny shifted in his seat.

"Look, I wanted to—" he started.

"Is that my jacket?" Stan asked, suddenly recognizing the black garment that the blonde was wearing. Kenny never wore black.

"Oh right," Kenny said, standing up so he could take it off and hand it over. "You forgot it at Bebe's."

"And so you decided to wear it?" he asked somewhat angrily, not sure how he was supposed to be reacting to this not angry Kenny. He paused and looked at Craig. "Did I really walk here without a jacket?"

Craig shrugged, pulled the plate of toast towards himself and took a huge bite of one.

"Don't eat it all, jackass!" Kenny told him, grabbing the plate back and pushing it towards Stan.

"Shut up," Craig said. "My head hurts."

"Freaking baby," Kenny said, almost affectionately.

Stan's phone rang. Craig scowled and flipped it off as Stan pulled it out of his jacket pocket. Victor's name was on the display.

Stan frowned in confusion.

"Victor?" he answered. Kenny startled slightly.

"Where the fuck are you?" came the harsh growl down the line.

"Um... what?"

"Your address, Marsh!" Victor barked. "Now!"

Stan stared wide-eyed at the two boys in front of him.

"Victor—why are you even calling me?" he asked. Kenny shifted nervously.

"Why do you think?" Victor sneered. "One of your faggy little friends called me. Said you needed me."

"What?!" he yelped, heartbeat picking up a notch.

"I wouldn't have cared less, but he was such a whiny little bitch, so tell me where you are before I start ripping doors from all of these fucking ugly-ass houses!"

Stan gaped stupidly for a moment, trying to figure out what to say. He hung up.

Across the table, Kenny was looking shifty, guilty and knowing.

"What the hell did you do?" Stan demanded.

"Before you get mad—" Kenny started.

"What the fuck did you do?!" Stan yelled. "Did you actually call him from my phone?!"

"Oh god, be quiet..." Craig said, clutching his toast to his head.

"Look, I'm sorry," Kenny tried, holding his hands out in reconciliation.

"Do you know what you've done?" Stan brought his voice down, whispering furiously. "What did you think you were doing?"

"Look, can you stop for a second?" Kenny asks. "I didn't mean to—"

"Didn't mean to?!" Stan half-laughed, incredulous. Right. No wonder Kenny was acting so strange. Obviously, he was trying to give Stan a false sense of security. "Like I'll believe that! Of course, you fucking meant to!"

"Just listen!" Kenny said, staring to get red in the face.

"No! I won't listen! What the fuck is your problem?!"

"You!" Kenny exploded. "I was angry, okay? And I think I had a right to be! After everything you've done—"

"I never did anything to you!" Stan growled.

"I mean to Kyle! To our school, to South Park!"

"You can't blame that on me!" Stan shot back. "I didn't make everything change!"

"But it was your fault that it did! Without you, and with what happened with Kyle... did you really think we could stay the same? Everything had already started to change! We were only adjusting the best way we could."

"That's crap, and you know it!" Stan said angrily. "If Kyle hadn't—"

"But Kyle did! And I couldn't forgive you. I hated you because he couldn't!" Kenny said, blue eyes turning steely in his red face. It was really unattractive.

"What are you even talking about?" Stan asked, too tired to put up with this shit anymore.

"You know exactly what I'm talking about!" Kenny replied. "Kyle would never blame you. And he should have. You were the one who stomped all over his friendship. But he couldn't."

"Couldn't... or wouldn't?" Stan asked, eyebrow raised measuredly.

"Either," Kenny bit out. "Both!"

"What?" he asked, chuckling a bit in surprise.

"Fuck you," Kenny said. "I had to pull him out of the shithole that you had put him in and still he wouldn't smile for anything. And I was prepared to hate you forever for that. And then you had to come back. And start changing things all over again. As if it wasn't bad enough the first time. I was sure everyone would hate you, like they should. But you had to go making friends with everyone. Everyone I care about. Butters, Ike, Craig, Kyle, and everyone else! You even managed to make friends with freaking Cartman! How could I trust you? Knowing what you had done? And what you could do? And who you wanted to do it with."

"What are you even..." Stan muttered, but Kenny kept on, not listening.

"I was the one who had to fix your mess before! So I'm sorry that I was a little bit angry when you started to take them all away from me!"

"And drunk," Craig offered.

"Shut up," Kenny growled at him.

"So you decided to go through my phone?" Stan countered. "You had no right. That's my stuff, my private life. However you felt about me..."

"Oh please," Kenny rolled his eyes. "You couldn't stop bragging about your freaking boyfriend to anyone who would listen for half a second."

"He's not my fucking boyfriend!" Stan yelled.

"Then what is he doing here?!" Kenny yelled back.

"How should I know?! You're the one that fucking called him!"

"I don't see why you're freaking out," Kenny responded, taking calming breaths. "He's your freaking friend. Why is this bothering you?"

Stan gripped his hair in frustration.

"Because he'll tear South Park apart!" Stan said. "Don't you get it?! That's what he does. He figures out what makes you tick and he destroys your sense of self-worth. San Diego could barely contain him. I doubt South Park will do much better. I never wanted him anywhere near South Park!"

"Overreact much?" Kenny asked, mocking.

"Fuck you," Stan growled. "You have no idea."

"Why do you even care? You hate South Park," Kenny said, quiet and matter of fact.

"No, I just hate you," Stan said. And he meant it. Well kind of. Because seeing Kenny's hurt expression almost made all the shit the blonde had put him through disappear.

Still, no one said anything for a long moment until Stan's ringtone suddenly filled the air again.

Stan jumped and looked at the display. Victor again. Stan pressed ignore.

"So what do we do?" Craig asked after awhile.

"I've gotta go meet him," Stan said, looking at him. "Convince him to take off."

"What if you can't?" Kenny asks.

"Then that means you've won, doesn't it?" Stan shot at him, glaring.

"Dammit Stan! It's not about winning," Kenny groaned, running his hands through his hair.

"No?" Stan raised his eyebrows. "Isn't that what you want? To see me fall so you can be the big hero and Kyle will come back to you?"

"It's really not," Kenny said quietly. "And even if it was, that wouldn't happen. Kyle can't stand me. Not right now. And I really want to blame you, but I know it's mostly my fault. You may have messed up, but I did worse."

"How can you have possibly done worse than me?" Stan asked.

"I knew what friendship meant to Kyle," Kenny stared down at the table. "And betrayal. And I still went and stamped all over it, even after he started to forgive you. No... even before that, I ruined your memory. It just never mattered before. Because I was all he had. And now I've left him alone. I'm surprised he didn't start to hate me sooner."

Stan sighed and dropped wearily down into the chair next to Craig.

"Kyle won't hate you," he said, almost grudgingly. "Not for long. He gets angry, but it burns fast. He'll forgive you in no time."

"Sure," Kenny said, but he held himself tight from where he stood.

"Can we all sit down now?" Craig said grumpily, staring pointedly at Kenny until the blonde reluctantly sat. Craig took a moody bite out of his toast.

Kenny smirked for a second.

"Guess you still know him better than me, huh?" he said, eyes focused away from Stan.

Stan shrugged uncomfortably.

"I've known him for fifteen years of my life and thought about him for three more."

"So why didn't you tell him I was the one that hit you?" Kenny asked.

"You gave him that black-eye?" Craig interrupted. Stan waved him off.

"I didn't want him to get angry at the only other person who gave a damn about him," he said, staring into the side of Kenny's head. The blonde's eyebrows jumped up, and he turned to stare wide-eyed at Stan.

"Jesus Christ," Craig muttered, planting his hands firmly on the table. " So you both care about him. Now can we please get back to the raving psychopath who is hell bent on destroying South Park?"

"Right," Stan said.

"Is he really that bad? I mean, what can he do?" Kenny asked.

"A lot," Stan said, standing up. "I have to meet him or he really will start ripping the doors off their hinges."

"Well, what should we do? I mean, I have to get to work... not sure I can be of much help," Kenny said, running his hand absently along the table.

"Just do what you always do. Until I can get him out of here you have to keep to yourselves," Stan said.

"Stan," Craig said as he started to walk away. Stan turned and looked at him.


"It's gonna be alright, yeah?" Craig didn't seem to know whether he was reassuring Stan or asking to be reassured himself.

Stan's heart picked up speed, but he grinned through his sudden panic.

"Sure," he said and walked out before his fluttering stomach betrayed him. He had to think quickly and couldn't afford to get nervous. Not now.

He pulled out his phone and called Victor as he walked up to the stairs to get his stuff together.

"Hey, Victor," Stan said. "I'll head to meet you. Where are you?"

"You look like shit," Victor said, leaning against his car parked in front of Stan's house.

"Yeah, nice to see you too," Stan huffed wearily.

"What? You're not pleased to see me? I thought you needed me. Isn't that what your friend said?" Victor leered at Stan.

"What are you doing here, Victor?" Stan asked. "I doubt it's for me. You never cared if I was in need before."

"Well, I heard I was this great boyfriend of yours. Figured if I had a boyfriend, I should be getting some of the perks that go with it," Victor raised his eyebrows suggestively.

"Seriously? Is this a booty call?" Stan asked.

Victor laughed, deep voice sending shivers down Stan's spine, half in fear, half in desire.

"I could get sex anytime, anywhere I wanted it, Marsh," Victor said, leaning in close. Stan resisted the urge to pull back from the man.

"If I needed it that badly, I wouldn't drive hundreds of miles to some redneck town to get it. And not from someone looking as fucked up as you," Victor lifted an eyebrow at Stan's face, and it took a moment before Stan made an aborted attempt to touch his face. Specifically, his eyes. Where he no longer wore his multitudes of black eyeliner.

For a moment, Stan was overcome with blind panic, struggling to breathe as he realized he was practically naked in front of this man. And it scared him more than anything. He was no longer hiding behind his favorite armor. He was just Stan, and that might not be enough to survive Victor.

Stan could see his hair clogging the sink and shaky hands that barely supported him. And he almost fell over under its power. He raised his hands, ready to push away from Victor and run like hell, and then stopped, hands outstretched in front of him.

He was wearing black gloves, like normal, still not having bought a new wardrobe after his re-revamp in image, but he could remember the first time he had worn these gloves, standing in front of his house and sure that he would be despise this city the way he had trained himself to do ever since he left. And under those gloves had been his nails, blackest of black, and one of the things he was most proud of about himself. But now they were clean. No polish for at least a month. And he used to think that he couldn't survive without them covered, without his eyes covered, without his hair. And yet he'd survived. A whole month. Without a stich of any of that armor on him.

He'd survived Kenny and Cartman and Craig. He'd survived cheerleaders and jocks, goths and geeks. And he'd survived Kyle. Even though it felt like his heart would drop at any moment, he was still going. He'd survived South Park. Which was something he'd never thought he'd be able to do.

And look at him now, shivering at the sight of a six-foot something asshole.

"I need you to leave, Victor," he said quietly.

"Fuck that," Victor said, laughing, but he finally stepped back, out of Stan's space.

"Fuck, I'm hungry," he continued, heading off down the street. "Where's the damn store?"

Stan stared after him for awhile, not sure if he'd dodged a bullet or if something bigger was just waiting to happen, but if there was one thing he knew, it was that he couldn't leave Victor on his own. Not in South Park. He followed him down the street.

It wasn't until he saw Kenny behind the cash register at Jmart that he realized what a spectacularly bad idea this was. Victor should already have been out of town, and instead he was strolling merrily through the isles. Well, not merrily, but he was an arrogant bastard, so whatever.

Stan held his breath as Victor ripped open a box of crackerjacks from the towering display that was on sale and started munching on them. He glanced towards Kenny, who kept shooting him wary looks. Stan tried to communicate through his eyes to knock it off, but it didn't seem to really work.

"Right," Victor said, sauntering up to Kenny's register and handing the blonde his half empty box. Kenny scanned it and handed it back.

"Will that be all?"

"Nah," Victor replied with a lazy smirk. "I want them all."

"What?" Kenny asked, unnerved.

Victor leaned over the counter and pointed a finger at the crackerjacks display.

"See those?" he asked. "I want them."

"Um... how many?" Kenny asked.

"All of them." he said slowly.

For a moment, Kenny stood unmoving, just staring, and then he grabbed the phone by the register.

"Hey, Mark? Yeah, how many boxes are in that crackerjacks display? Yeah. No. All of them. Yes, all of them. What do you mean--? Well, how am I supposed to know? No, I don't... Well, am I really supposed to--? Right, thanks for all the fucking help."

Kenny hung up and turned towards Victor, flashing one of his fake smiles.

"Well, let's get them down, right?" he said and walked off.

"Victor?" Stan said slowly, after painstakingly watching Kenny take down every last box from the display and put it into a cart and then unload them one by one to scan at the register. "Do you really need this many?"

Victor unfolded himself from where he was lounging back against the candy display, grinning with an unholy glee.

"All of them, Marsh," Victor said, stepping into Stan's space and leaning down towards him.

Stan quickly looked away, in case Victor had been planning on kissing him, but he stood his ground, didn't back away, and Victor just chuckled into his ear before walking off.

"I can't stand much more of this," Stan said, and Kenny snorted.

"You're not the one scanning that dick's boxes. Seriously, what can one person do with this many crackerjacks?"

"You don't want to know," Stan said. "In fact, I don't want to know either."

"Marsh!" Victor yelled from across the store. "Get your ass over here!"

"Fucking hell," Kenny breathed. "Now I know why you never dated him. He's more of an asshole than you."

"Thanks for that," Stan glared and went to Victor.


"Give me your phone," Victor said, lighting up a cigarette.

"Fuck no," Stan said.

"You can't do that inside," said a nearby employee.

"Really?" Victor said and went on smoking. "Just give me your phone, Marsh."

"I said no. Use your own fucking phone."

"Fuck, you're even more of a bitch than you used to be," Victor griped and reached into Stan's jacket pocket.

"Get your hands off me!" Stan struggled, but Victor swiped the phone and was already messing around with it. "What the fuck are you doing?"

"Calm your tits, Marsh," Victor said and took a long pull from his cigarette. Stan tried to remember how he ever found that attractive. A few more seconds and Victor tossed the phone back to him.

Stan searched around until he found what he was looking for.


Sent to all his contacts.

"What the hell, Victor?"


"Relax?! I just found out I'm hosting a party I wasn't even planning! How do you think this is going to happen when my parents are still around?!"

"Jesus fuck," Victor said. "You're such a fucking pussy. Your parents aren't even home right now."

And belatedly, Stan remembered something his dad had said to him at the football game. It seemed so long ago. Something about a trip.

"How the fuck do you know that?" he asked curiously.

"What do you think I did while I was waiting for your fucking ass to show up?" Victor said, pulling a note out of his pocket and shoving it at Stan. "By the way, you have an ugly ass house."


Remember, your father and I will back Sunday evening. Call if you need anything.



P.S. Don't bother raiding the condom stash. We needed emergency supplies. If you haven't already found The Condom Holy Grail, sorry for killing your brain.



"Oh, eww..." Stan said. "Fucking Dad."

"See?" Victor said. "No parents."

"Why the hell do you want to have a party anyway?" Stan asked with a glare.

Victor shrugged.

"Figured I might as well meet all your loser ass friends," he said, cigarette dangling from his lips.


"No," Victor said and walked off again.

Stan floundered for a second until Kenny walked up to him, handing him Victor's credit card.

"Why'd I just get a text saying there's a party at your house tonight?" he asked.

"'Cuz you're the one who wanted my number in case anything happened," Stan said.


"Apparently, I'm throwing a party," Stan replied, gesturing in the general direction Victor had gone.

"Is that what all the crackerjacks are for?" Kenny asked.

"Fuck if I know."

"You know no one's going to show up," Kenny said. "It's not part of the system. It'll be a bust."

"All the better," Stan replied. "Victor won't screw with anything."

"I guess," Kenny said. And they stood for a moment in awkward silence. It was a bit too easy for them to talk like this.

"So are you coming?" Stan asked quickly.

"Sure," Kenny said, just as fast.

Stan quirked an awkward grin and nodded, turning to follow Victor out.

"Hey, wait," Kenny said and gestured back at the crackerjacks. "How are you gonna get all these back?"

"Fuck," Stan said.

Everyone did show up.

It was a nightmare.

Not only were the normal crowd there, but every other teen in the whole city and probably some from out of town.

The house was so packed, people were pouring out into the street. Stan was sure that they already would have been busted if not for Victor probably doing some heavy-handed bribing.

As it was, Stan could hardly breathe trying to walk through the sweaty masses. Heavy bass pounded down on them and someone had brought a strobe light. It was like a mini-rave.

"Jesus Christ," Stan panted.

"Alright there, Stan?"

Stan had to twist and look down until he could spot the boy talking to him.

"Ike?" Stan squinted and moved until he almost crushed the other boy beneath him.

"Sorry," he mumbled. "What are you doing here?"

"Hey! It's my only chance to see what one of these things is like! I wouldn't miss it for the world!" Ike grinned.

"It's a bit more crazy than normal," Stan admitted, trying to shuffle the both of them to an area where they'd be better able to breathe. "How have you not been trampled?"

"Luck," Ike said, grinning again.

"Ow, shit!" Stan yelped when someone slammed up behind him.

"Fuck off!" the person said.

"You fuck off!" Stan shouted back. "Sorry, Ike."

"I'm fine."

"Here," Stan said and lifted Ike onto his back. "Hold on."

"Where are we going?" Ike asked.

"Somewhere we won't die," Stan said, and Ike laughed.

"Is Kyle here?" Stan asked after a moment.

"I dunno," Ike replied. "He didn't come home last night."

"Oh," Stan said, walking haphazardly around two people making out enthusiastically.

"Did something happen?" Ike asked, peering down at Stan's head.

"Maybe," Stan replied.

"He wasn't with you?" Ike frowned, fingers tapping rhythmically against Stan's neck. "I thought... he would be."

"No, he wasn't with me," Stan said, and his stomach started rolling.

"He must have been with Kenny," Ike guessed.

"No," Stan said shortly.

"But—" Ike started. "He had to have been. He hasn't—he hasn't done that since, well, since you left."

"I don't know, Ike," Stan said, feeling guilty and upset. "I know he wasn't with Kenny."


"My guess is Tweek," Stan said quickly. "He was probably at Tweek's."

Ike didn't say anything else, and Stan didn't either, but he could practically hear the boy's brain working at high speed even through all the noise. That is until there was a sudden change in the rhythm of the party around them and suddenly everyone was pushing steadily towards the door.

"What the--!" Stan lurched forward, pushed by the rest of the crowed.

"Stan..." Ike gripped tight at Stan's shirt.

"I've got you," Stan said, trying not to trip on his own feet.

They didn't even have to make it outside before they saw the source of the commotion.

Bright flashes of green, red, and gold lights and sparks falling from the sky and then they could hear the crackling. The loud screeching of the fireworks shooting into the sky and then the bang and the crackling pops.

"Wow," Ike breathed and everyone started cheering.

"Jesus," Stan said and just stood there with Ike on his back in stunned awe.

"Wow, Stan," Ike said. "How did you even do all this?"

"I didn't," Stan said, still awestruck, until he remembered. "Victor."


"Fuck," Stan said and started looking around. In the craze of the party, he had lost sight of the man.

"Kenny!" Ike exclaimed, and sure enough, the blonde was pushing through the crowd towards them.

"Hey," Stan said. "Have you seen Kyle?"

"No, what about Victor?" Kenny asked, tense.

"I lost him. Who knows what the fuck he's doing right now," Stan answered, a low feeling starting to pull his down in his gut.



Ike coughed from his spot on Stan's back.

"Hey, Ike," Kenny said finally, smiling at the boy.

"What's going on?" Ike asked.

"We're just trying to stop a disaster from happening," Kenny said with a wink.

"Who's Victor?" Ike asked, obviously not buying it. "You've mentioned him before."

Stan and Kenny looked warily at each other.

"He's just this guy I met in San Diego," Stan said. When Ike only gave him a look, Stan looked to Kenny for help.

"He could be up to trouble," Kenny offered.

"What kind of trouble?" Ike asked slowly.

"That's what we're trying to figure out," Stan said, looking seriously at Kenny.

"I could help," Ike said, climbing off Stan's back.

"Ike, I don't think that's a good—" Kenny started to say.

"I could be your eyes!" Ike interrupted.

"That could actually be a good idea," Stan said.

"What?" Kenny frowned, eyes widened slightly in alarm.

"We need all the help we can get," Stan said. "And with Kyle missing..."

"Do you think he'd go after him?" Kenny asked anxiously.

"I don't think he even knows what he looks like," Stan shrugged. "But Victor's always been clever. We won't know what he's after until it's already happened. It could be Kyle. It could be you. I just don't know how much time we have left."

"Shit," Kenny said, and for the first time in a long while, Stan saw what was probably fear in the blonde's eyes. He was panicking. Stan swallowed uneasily.

"Here," he said and lifted Ike onto Kenny's shoulders. "You're taller. Ike, you try to find Kyle. And anyone else who you think might help."

"Okay," Ike agreed easily.

"What do I do?" Kenny asked, hands gripping Ike's legs firmly. For safety.

"Keep him safe," Stan said, pushing down his own rising panic. "Whatever you think needs to be done, do it."


"Just do it!" Stan said. "Or we all might be in trouble."

"Stan..." Kenny said brokenly, eyes pleading with him.

"It'll be fine," Stan said, with a confidence he didn't feel. "If we work together, it'll all turn out alright."

And he walked inside before Kenny could say anything else, fireworks and cheers drowning out behind him.

Inside, it was a lot less crowded. Almost empty, but for the people who had gotten tired of the fireworks or were already too wasted to enjoy them. One of them clad in blue and black.

"Craig," Stan said.

"Hey, I just saw Kenny before the whole light show started," Craig said, gesturing towards the door.

"Yeah, I ran into him outside," Stan replied. "You haven't seen Kyle, have you?"

"No," Craig said. "What's going on?"

"He's probably still with Tweek," Stan muttered, looking around nervously. "We have to find them. Make sure they're okay."

"I just saw Tweek," Craig said, voice growing harder. "He was alone."

"Did he say where Kyle was?"

"We didn't talk," Craig said. "I just saw him going up the stairs."

"Go check on him!" Stan exclaimed.


"I don't know where Victor is, and I have to find him."

"Dude," Craig said. "I think you're taking this a bit too—"

"This isn't a joke, Craig!" Stan cried, fisting a hand in his hair.

"But why would he do something? If he were going to," Craig stared at him, blue eyes still showing his confusion.

Stan sighed and glanced at the floor for a moment, then looked at Craig.

"Because him and me were alike," he said.

"What do you mean?" Craig asked slowly.

"Because we both couldn't have who we wanted, so we settled for whatever was available. For second best."

"I thought you hated each other," Craig said, quiet.

"We did!" Stan said. "We do. But it didn't matter. We shared something. We both hated ourselves, hated not being good enough for the ones we wanted."

"And so now—"

"Now, he thinks I've got that chance." With Kyle, Stan didn't say.

"But Kenny didn't say that—" Craig said, furrowing his eyebrows.

"It doesn't matter," Stan shook his head. "The fact that he's here now means something Kenny said gave him that idea."

"And he doesn't want that to happen."

"No," Stan agreed. "Because it means that he's the only one who wasn't good enough. Even for second best."

Craig stared at him silently, and Stan was sure the same panic Kenny had felt was now rising within him.

"He could go after Kyle," Stan said quietly. "He could go after Kenny. He could go after the whole town. As long as it made him feel better."

"What about you?" Craig asked.

"Well, the easiest way to break me is through the ones I love, right?" Stan shrugged.

"I'm gonna find Tweek," Craig said and turned and ran up the stairs.

"Fuck," Stan breathed, wide-eyed. "Fuck."

For a few moments after Craig had run up the stairs, Stan just sat on the couch and tried to pull himself together. He was panicking, and it was making everyone else freak out. Nothing had happened yet. Victor might not try anything. Maybe he just wanted to intimidate him. Whatever it was, it was working. Already this had blown up into something huge, but as far as he knew, everything was fine.

Still, Stan took a few moments to just breathe, hands fisted in his hair as he slumped between his knees.

"Get it together, Marsh. You have to find Kyle," he told himself.

Swallowing, Stan ignored the unease in his stomach and sat up, arms dropping to couch.


"What the--?"

Looking down, Stan prodded at the cushion below him. It made the same noise. He crouched down in front of it and lifted the cushion, letting spill out what seemed to be—

"Crackerjacks," Stan said, picking up a handful.


Stan startled and stood up, looking towards the stairs. That sounded like Tweek.

"What the fu--?!"

And that was Craig.

In a sudden movement, Stan ripped the cushions from the couch. Crackerjacks spilled over onto the floor in multitudes. The whole thing was lined with the caramel popcorn. Even the cushion in Stan's hand was still crunching.

Footsteps came racing down the stairs, followed by the appearance of Craig and a badly twitching Tweek.

"They're all over the place!" Craig said, eyeing Stan's handful of crackerjack-stuffed cushion. "All upstairs. In the beds and pillows. Even the bathtub!"

"What is he doing?" Stan murmured.

Tweek was practically convulsing where he stood, eyes bugging out and body shuddering.

"C-c-c-coffee! I n-n-need coffee!!" he cried, voice shrill like it had been when they were kids.

"Come on," Craig said, pulling him towards the kitchen quickly.

"Wait!" Stan yelled and ran after them. "Don't--!"

"AHH!!!" Tweek screamed as crackerjacks poured out of the top of the coffeemaker. He stumbled backwards into a corner. Craig pulled open the cabinets, but even they were filled with box upon box of crackerjacks.

"Jesus, it's a fucking cracked up nightmare!" Craig yelled, pulling open the fridge as well. Boxes of crackerjacks spilled out on his feet. "What is he trying to do?"

"Craig," Tweek whined softly, his body still spasming out of control.

"Seriously, is this the best he can do?" Craig growled, voice rising into a shout. "Are we supposed to be frightened by a bit of popcorn?"

"Craig..." Stan warned. "Don't—"

And then the house exploded around them.

Screams filled the air as the people who had managed to trickle back in started running back out, bits of caramelized popcorn raining down on them.

Stan stood stock still in the kitchen, just staring at Craig, who was completely covered in exploded crackerjacks, his dark blue eyes opened wide in shock and fixed right back on Stan.


Stan took slow shaky breaths and looked down at his hands, ignoring the mess of caramel on the floor for the feel of sticky popcorn on his own skin.

Tweek was squeaking unattractively in his corner, but Stan didn't dare look at him. He was already having a hard enough time trying not to—

And then he couldn't help it. He started laughing.

Craig stared at him, incredulous, but it just made Stan laugh harder, doubling up in pain from the force of it coming out of him.

"What the fuck?" Craig said.

"Your face!" Stan managed between gasping breaths.


"Your fucking face!" still laughing. "I thought we were gonna die! And you were so—fucking serious, and then when it all exploded—your face!"

Tweek started giggling nervously, and after a while of Stan still gasping for breath between laughs, Craig started up too. And then they were all laughing, sticky with pieces of crackerjacks covering their whole bodies and all over the floor, and the kitchen was a disaster, Stan was sure the whole house was a disaster, but he just couldn't help it. They were alive, and it was so ridiculous, but he couldn't give a shit when they were alive.

"Stan?! Stan!!" Kenny's anxious voice was calling from the living room.

"Co—coming," Stan tried to call back, but he could barely catch his breath let alone speak. He turned slowly to walk out into the living room, crackerjacks crunching underneath him with each step.

Craig came up behind him and pushed him along, still chuckling quietly, and Tweek followed after.

Kenny and Ike were walking into the house, a few others trailing after them, Cartman, Wendy, Token, Clyde, Bebe.

"What the hell happened?" Kenny said, setting down Ike on the popcorn-riddled floor and walking over to him. They were both spotless.

"I don't know," Stan said, shaking his head, still trying to get himself under control. Kenny grinned at Stan like he was crazy.

"Stan!" Ike cried, shattering the moment.

"And this must be the young Canadian Jew boy," Victor said, from where he was holding the struggling boy by the back of the neck.

"Victor," Stan gasped, not laughing anymore. Kenny was standing stock still beside him.

Victor grinned maliciously.

"Surprisingly easy to find people to give up information in this shithole town of yours," Victor said, ignoring Ike's pitiful kicks to the side of his stomach.

"Victor," Stan said slowly. "Let him go."

"I couldn't find that redhead of yours, but I figure this must be the next best thing, seeing how chummy you were with him earlier."

"Victor, please."

"You begging me, Marsh?" Victor grinned wolfishly, all his teeth on display, sharp and gleaming like a tiger. "You always did beg so well."

Ike cried out in pain as Victor tightened his grip on his neck, his hand big enough to practically encircle the boy's neck.

"Don't hurt him," Stan whispered, loud in the stillness around them.

"What would you do for me?" Victor asked. "So I'd let him go?"

"Anything," Stan said. "Anything you wanted. Please, he's like my brother. Just let him go."

Kenny made an abrupt movement forward, but Stan stopped him.

"Don't," he looked at him. Kenny glared at him with anger and fear, but stood still.

"Would you fuck me, Marsh?" Victor asked. Wendy gasped softly, Token putting a hand on her shoulder.

"Yes," Stan agreed, stepping forward slowly. Ike had stopped struggling, but he was watching Stan approach with wary eyes. "I'll fuck you. Anything, Victor. Anything you want."

"God, you're so pathetic, Marsh," Victor sneered and stepped forward into Stan's space. A ripple of movement went through everyone still there. "You'd fuck me to save his scrawny ass?"

"Please, Victor," Stan said, staring up into the man's face.

Victor scoffed down at him, but leaned down, opening his mouth to say something when—

"Put my brother down right fucking now."

Stan inhaled hard and turned to watch Kyle walk forward, Butters stepping up beside Wendy with wide eyes.

"So this is the guy?" Victor asked, stepping back from Stan and grinning. "Well, I'm glad you finally made an appearance. I have to say it would have been a shame if you'd missed this."

"Put him down," Kyle said, voice low, green eyes glaring burning holes into Victor.

"Aren't you the little firecracker?"

"Put him down!" Kyle yelled. Victor started laughing.

"You sure can pick them, Marsh—" he started to say.

"Look, asshole," Kyle interrupted angrily. "I don't care who the fuck you are, but you're putting my fucking brother down right now before I punch your fucking face in."

"Really?" Victor said. "Sorry to say, but I doubt you could—"

Kyle punched him. Victor reeled back, more out of surprise than anything, but when he looked back at Kyle, he was glaring. He dropped Ike in order to get into Kyle's face. Ike ran and wrapped his arms around Stan's waist. Stan hugged him back tightly, heart racing just as wildly as Ike's, but his eyes were on Kyle alone.

"Look here, you little bitch," Victor was saying. "I could take you apart without even using my hands. You're lucky I don't tear you apart right here."

"Yeah? Why don't you?" Kyle asked, not backing down an inch.

"Are you shitting me? You're half my size! It wouldn't even be worth it," Victor scoffed.

"Then why'd you come here?" Kyle asked. "If I'm not even worth it. What possible reason did you have for making this huge spectacle of yourself, of South Park? You're such a fucking liar. You're so fake. And it's pathetic."

Victor breathed in harsh through his nose and in the next second, his hand was wrapped around Kyle's throat. "You listen to me, you fucking sk—"

"Oh, fuck no," and Kenny was running past Stan and pushing Victor off of the redhead, who fell to the floor. Victor looked ready to take a swipe at the blonde, but suddenly Cartman was stepping forward as well, Token, Clyde, and Craig following him.

"Leave the Jew alone," Cartman said, drawing himself up to his full height so that he was nearly as tall as Victor.

"You fuck with him then you fuck with all of us," Token said. "And you really don't want the whole of South Park coming down on your ass."

"Really?" Victor asked.

"Really," Craig growled.

"Yeah," Clyde said.

"All of us," Wendy said. Bebe pulled out her phone as if threatening to text everyone in South Park.

"I've got Christophe and Gregory on speed dial," she said, popping her gum.

"So if you don't want the Mole to gouge your eyes out and then dig you your own personal grave, I think you'd better get the fuck out of here," Kenny suggested.

Victor looked around at the lot of them, the guys forming a semicircle around Kyle, Wendy, Bebe, Tweek, and Butters. And Stan, his arms still around Ike.

And then he threw back his head and laughed, a huge booming laugh that startled everyone in the room. He raised his arms into the air, an eyebrow raised.

"Fine. Gonna let me out?" he said, still sarcastic as hell.

Kenny raised an arm to indicate the way out, and Victor went, shaking his head.

Stan exhaled slowly, closing his eyes and leaning down to bury his nose in Ike's hair.

"Fuck," he whispered.

Ike's shoulders started shaking and when Stan opened his eyes, the boy was grinning up at him, laughing.

"You dick," Stan said, shoving the boy away, but he was smiling too.

"I love you too, Stan," Ike said jokingly, but then he leaned up on his tiptoes to place a grinning kiss on Stan's cheek.

"Brother," he whispered, and then ran to where Kenny was helping Kyle off the ground.

"Brother," Stan repeated quietly, everyone around him chattering breathlessly. It all felt so surreal.

Craig brushed passed him to where Tweek was still standing, shivers less pronounced.

"I need to talk to you," he said.

"O-okay," Tweek said, and they walked off.

Stan looked back to where everyone else was still converged around Kyle, Cartman punching Kenny in the shoulder with his arm around Butters, Wendy and Bebe trading excited gossip, Token giving Clyde a noogie, and Kyle and Ike with their arms wrapped tight around each other.

He went after Craig and Tweek.

They were out in the backyard, around near the side of the house. Stan kept his distance.

"What's wrong?" Tweek was saying.

"I don't—" Craig tried, stopped and started again. "I don't want to be the kind of person who buries everything so deep that it stops me from being who I want to be. ...getting what I really want," Craig said. "I don't want that to happen to me. I don't want to be okay with second best."

"What do you want?" Tweek asked.

"I want you," Craig said. Tweek stared up at him with wide eyes, slightly shivering, but he didn't say anything.

"I want you to know everything about me," Craig said, soft but intense. "I want you to know more about me than anyone else, better than anyone else. Better than myself. And I don't want to be scared... of not having you."

Stan leaned up against the sliding door, watching as Craig laid himself on the line. Tweek said nothing for a moment, just stared up at Craig, still, if but for only a moment. Craig swallowed, then—

"All you have to do is come get me," Tweek said. "I'm yours."

As cheesy as it was, Stan's lips twitched up into a smile, and so did Craig's. When Craig bent down to press his lips against the blonde's, Stan turned away and went back inside.

The living room was empty, but for the mess of exploded crackerjacks, and Stan wasn't sure whether or not to feel depressed about that, but he walked out the front door into the early rising sun in case anyone was still hanging around.

In fact, there was someone, but he hadn't expected to still see him there.

Victor was leaning up against his car, and he stared as Stan walked down the driveway to meet him.

"Are you leaving now?" Stan asked.

"You know, he's a prissy little bitch, but he's got balls, that redhead of yours," Victor said.

"Victor," Stan groaned softly and looked away.

When Victor didn't say anything, Stan glanced back at him. The man was just watching him, eyes tracking down his face, a quick sweep down his body, before he trained them on Stan's eyes.

Stan let him, though he wasn't sure if he should.

"Sure, whatever, Marsh," Victor finally said, and got into his car.

"Bye," Stan whispered as he drove off, and then trudged back into his disaster of a house.

Stan slumped against the door and looked wearily around himself.

"Godammit," he muttered and dragged himself up the stairs and into the bathroom.

It took some doing, but he got the tub empty enough for him to take a shower, and even though he still felt like crap, he felt it would be marginally easier to clean up the house now.

Walking into his room, dripping wet with a towel around him, he yelped and clutched his towel around his waist when he found someone sitting on his bed. His ridiculously clean bed for supposedly having been through the rest of the crackerjacks disaster.

"Hey, Stan," Kyle said.

"Hey," Stan said, uneasily.

"I cleaned your room," Kyle said, and then kind of winced after.

"Right, um, thanks," Stan said. "You didn't have to or anything..."

"No, I did!" Kyle said quickly, and then looked away. "I mean, you helped Ike, and I just wanted to say thanks. For that."

"I would have done it anyway," Stan said and then shifted uncomfortably.

"Right," Kyle said.

They were quiet for a moment.

"Um, not to offend you or anything. I mean, thanks for cleaning my room, but I kinda need to put some clothes on?"

"Oh! Right!" Kyle said, blushing bright red and turning away.

"Right," Stan repeated and moved slowly to his drawers. He grabbed whatever was closest and changed quickly before turning back to Kyle. "Um, it's okay now."

"Right," Kyle, turning back, his face still ridiculously red. They giggled nervously at each other for a moment, before Stan coughed and looked away.

"Um, so what are you still doing here?" he asked. "Thought you went home with Ike."

"I did, " Kyle said. "Well, I came back. I wanted to talk."

"If it's about the other night, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to—" Stan said quickly.

"No!" Kyle said. "That's not what—that's not it. I just felt... we should talk, right? I mean, there's a lot to talk about."

"Yeah, I guess," Stan said and sat down on the bed, a good foot away from the redhead. He stared at the carpet and tried to figure out what he should say. Now that he could, he found he couldn't think of anything, even though he knew there were words there. Words that were important.

Kyle surprised him by speaking first.

"I didn't hate you," he said. "After you left, and you know, everything. I didn't hate you."

"Yeah," Stan said quietly. "Kenny told me. That's why he kinda hated me for you."

"Yeah, but I mean, I didn't want to hate you. Well, maybe I did. Just a little bit. But I couldn't. Because I knew you. I know you. And if I was hurting, then I was sure you were hurting just as much, if not more. And I couldn't understand why you couldn't just tell me."

"I'm sorry," Stan whispered.

"I thought about it so much afterwards," Kyle said. "What was so difficult that this would happen? And that was what I was most upset about. That something could come between us like that. And it wasn't until later that I realized it's not always that easy."

"Maybe it is," Stan said. "If I hadn't been so scared, this wouldn't have happened."

"You still would have moved," Kyle said.

"But it wouldn't have ended like it did," Stan said.

"Why were you scared, Stan?" Kyle asked.

"Don't you already know?" Stan looked up at the redhead.

"Say it," Kyle said, green eyes pleading with Stan. Stan tried to convey back to him how hard it was, but he'd never been able to resist Kyle very well.

"I loved you," Stan said. "I still do. Every waking moment I spent away from South Park, I still couldn't stop thinking about you, even though I tried. I really tried. But you're like a fucking virus that won't leave me alone."

Kyle smiled, eyes watery and perfect.

"Yeah, I know," he said. Stan's heart practically burst, his stomach turning itself over.

"I think I always knew," he continued. "But I tricked myself into thinking it was something else. And it wasn't completely your fault."

"Yeah, it was," Stan tried to say, but Kyle wouldn't let him.

"No. If I had confronted you about it, if I had tried harder..."

"Are you saying things would have been different?" Stan asked.

"I don't know," Kyle admitted. "But I'd like to think so."

Stan shook his head, smiling sheepishly.

"I guess it doesn't matter either way, does it?" Stan said. "Doesn't change anything."

"It matters," Kyle said softly. "Because you need to stop beating yourself up about it. I already forgave you, practically before it even happened. You need to forgive yourself now."

"Don't know if I can," Stan said, looking down at his hands.

Kyle moved closer to him on the bed, placing one hand on Stan's clasped ones and the other on his shoulder.

"Please?" he asked. "For me? 'Cuz I don't think I'd be able to be your boyfriend, if you were always worrying about what happened."

Stan breathed in deeply.


"I want to be your boyfriend, Stan," Kyle said, and it took nothing at all for Stan to move his head to look straight into Kyle's eyes.

"Wha--? Kyle, you don't mean—you don't—you're not—I mean, you don't love me."

"I never thought about it before," Kyle said. "Honestly, I never thought much about anyone before. But if there were anyone I would want to spend the rest of my life with, it would be you."

"But what about Tweek?" Stan asked, leaning back. "Kyle, I don't want to be—I want to be your first choice. I want you to think about me the way I think about you."

"How do you think about me?" Kyle asked.

"Kyle!" Stan pulled away. "I can't."

"Why not?"

"Because you're all I've ever wanted, and I don't think I could handle not being the same to you."

"How do you know you're not?" Kyle asked.


"Tweek's my friend," Kyle said. "Just my friend."

"You went home with him last night. The other night."

"I was confused. And upset. We didn't do anything. Didn't even really talk. It's nice to be around someone who understands you."

"You kissed him," Stan said. "And Craig. You've kissed Craig. Made out with them."

Kyle shook his head in impatience.

"They're my friends. I didn't—I couldn't be myself. When I didn't have you around. But I didn't know how else to be either... and they made me feel... normal. It meant nothing."

"I don't know if I can understand that," Stan said.

"Aren't you friends with Craig now?" Kyle asked, frustration bleeding through his voice.

"Yeah," Stan said. "And don't you think it still stings when I think about him and you? But he's in love with Tweek. He's always been in love with Tweek. And so I understand that he did something stupid with you because I'm exactly like him. But that's him. That's not you. And that's not Tweek."

Kyle sighed softly and leaned back, giving Stan some space.

"I don't know why he kissed me," Kyle finally said. "The first time. I think... it might have been—to help me. But I'm not sure. It might have been something to do with Craig as well. 'Cuz I understand him, how hard it is, being the guy waiting until his best friend finally works through everything he needs to. Being the second guy who knows how wonderful the first one could be, if they only let themselves believe it."

"Are you saying that's me?" Stan asked.

"Of course it is," Kyle said. "I've always believed in you, Stan. Even when you've done the most shitheaded things in the world. But it's hard to let you go through it yourself, when I could be helping you. But even though I wish I could knock some sense into you sometimes, I know you need to figure it out yourself."

"Kyle, I'm sorry."

"Stop saying that," Kyle said, irritated. "Can't you just accept that I love you? And that I want to be your best friend again."

"I don't want to be best friends anymore," Stan said. Kyle looked at him, almost distressed. "I want to be more than that. Everything. Together with you."

"Yeah, okay," Kyle smiled and leaned in to press his lips to Stan's.

Stan pulled away after a second.

"Besides, I think Craig might be my new best friend or something. Well, and Butters. Once he stops being mad at me. Also, I think there's this weird thing with Kenny that I don't really understand. And then there's Ike, but he's more like a brother so—"

"Stan?" Kyle interrupted.


"Shut up," he said and kissed him again.

Kissing Kyle was definitely one of the best things Stan had ever experienced by far. It was soft and moist, and Stan could really get addicted. In fact, he probably already was.

They parted lips briefly, and Stan's breath shuddered out in excited anticipation.

"Should probably clean up the rest of the house," he whispered, lips only the barest centimeter away.

"Or you could stay here and have sex with me," Kyle said.

"Yeah, fuck it," Stan agreed, and toppled Kyle backwards on the bed.

Their mouths came together enthusiastically, more passionate and aggressive than before. Kyle's hands rested warm on Stan's shoulder blades, and Stan ran his fingers through Kyle's short curls.

Their tongues tangled, and Kyle parted his legs so Stan could rest between them.

"I—" Stan said, pulling away. Kyle groaned in frustration, trying to pull Stan back to him. "How do you want to do this?"

"You on top is good. That's fine," Kyle said quickly and crashed his mouth back into Stan's.

Stan moaned at the feel, allowing Kyle to suck on his tongue, but his stomach was churning unpleasantly at the thought of what he had to do.

"Stan, I can hear you thinking," Kyle said impatiently against his mouth. "Just take your clothes off and fuck me."

"Shit," Stan shuddered, closing his eyes for a second to get a hold of himself. Beneath, Kyle was moving in a way that was very distracting.

"Stan, I've got seventeen years of celibacy weighing down on me," Kyle huffed. "I really want you to help me with that."

"Fuck, Kyle," Stan breathed and pulled away from the redhead completely.

"What's wrong?" Kyle asked, sitting up.

"It's not that I'm not loving that fact that I get to be your first and everything because that's totally hot," Stan said. "It's that, this is kinda a big deal. You and me. And I've thought about this so many times before, and I don't want to screw it up, and I know that if I'm on top I'll make a big mess out of it and you deserve a lot better for your first time."

"Stan," Kyle said softly, moving to rest his chin on Stan's shoulder. "I don't expect it to be perfect. That's kinda the point. So I can get better. But I think it'd be nice. You and me. Really nice."

"Yeah," Stan smiled at him, receiving a soft kiss from Kyle for his efforts. "I'm just not—"

"Let's go slow," Kyle said, pulling Stan slowly back down with him. "Touch me. I want you to."

It was still nerve-wracking, helping Kyle out of his sweater, touching all that pale skin, and having Kyle do the same to him.

They were getting pretty good at making out. But then they both probably had a lot of practice. And so, it wasn't so bad, trailing his hand down Kyle's body to press down against the bulge in his jeans.

Kyle groaned up into their kiss and gripped tighter at Stan's back.

"More," he whispered, and Stan shivered, moving to mouth and suck at Kyle's jaw and neck. He pressed down firmly against Kyle's arousal, kneading it through the jeans.

"Take them off," Kyle pleaded, and well, how could Stan resist that?

Pulling the black denim down Kyle's thighs, Stan leaned back in to mouth at Kyle's stomach. Kyle whimpered and pressed up into the touch.

Stan moved up to press a firm kiss against Kyle's lips, then leant back to deal with his own jeans, boxers following after.

Kyle watched him carefully, eyes hot and trailing down his body.

Stan smiled at the redhead and lowered himself down on top of him again, and Kyle attached himself to his mouth.

Trailing his mouth down Kyle's throat, Stan paid particular attention to the redhead's collarbone, sucking a mark there where no one would see but him, before continuing down, nipping lightly at a nipple and swirling his tongue around it.

Kyle giggled quietly, and Stan glanced up to his smiling mouth. They were red and swollen, and he looked so amazing with his green eyes lit up in happiness and pleasure.

Stan kissed the skin above Kyle's heart and moved down. He swirled his tongue briefly in Kyle's bellybutton, just to hear the boy laugh again, and then continued on.

He nosed at Kyle's underwear, pushing it down slightly to nip at the skin just covered by elastic.

Kyle shivered and groaned, his fingers threading through Stan's messy hair.

Slipping the briefs down, Stan breathed in Kyle's smell, nose right at junction of hip and pelvis.

"Stan, don't tease," Kyle complained, hips thrusting up.

Stan chuckled, but complied, opening up and circling the head of Kyle's cock with his tongue before swallowing him down.

Kyle tried to thrust up, but Stan held his hips down, sucking slowly, taking his time to learn everything he could about Kyle's cock.

Kyle moaned and thrashed, and it was glorious to watch. Stan sucked back up to the tip and lapped at the head, then swallowing down again and sucking back up. He kept up this rhythm until Kyle was practically clawing at Stan's scalp to get him up.

"Stan," Kyle breathed. "Not yet. Please."

Stan slipped off and took over with his hand.

"You going to come?"

"Yes," Kyle said, nodding his head, and then shaking it. "No. I don't know."

Stan smiled and leaned down to kiss him.

"I guess that means I'm doing something right."

"Shut up," Kyle murmured, but returned the kiss enthusiastically. "I know you're not new to this."

"No," Stan admitted. "But just because I've done it before, doesn't mean I can make it good for you. Everyone's different."

Kyle stared up at him for a moment.

"Come here," he said, pulling Stan down to lie on him. They kissed slowly for a while and then Kyle pulled away.

"How did you imagine it?" he asked. "Us?"

"Us?" Stan repeated, pulling lightly at one of Kyle's curls. "There were so many ways. I think I'd have been happy having you at all."

"What was your favorite?" Kyle asked.

"I dunno," Stan shrugged. "You and me looking at each other. Slow and holding each other."

"Stan, do you want me to be on top?"

"Oh, thank god," Stan breathed. Kyle grinned up at him.

"You could have just said."

"I thought you wanted me to..."

"As long as it's with you," Kyle said. "I don't care. There's plenty of time later to switch it up."

"Yeah," Stan smiled. "Plenty of time."

"I love you, Stan."

Stan closed his eyes, breathing deeply, his face pressed against Kyle's neck.

"Feels so good to hear you say that," he mumbled.

"I mean it."

"I'm glad," Stan said. "I love you too."

They shifted around until Stan was on the bottom, Kyle between his legs, lube and a condom in his hands.

"So I just..."

"Go slowly," Stan said. "I don't want it to be over too fast."

"Right," Kyle breathed.

Stretching him out was a fun experience all on its own. Stan didn't think he'd ever laughed so much with one of his partners before. He definitely enjoyed it. And nothing beat seeing Kyle's smile, skin wrinkling around his eyes with each laugh.

"I love you," Stan said, once more, right as Kyle was about to enter him.

Kyle grinned and pushed forward.

"Shit," he gasped, shutting his eyes quickly.

"Go slow," Stan reminded. "I'm fine. Just go slow."

"Slow," Kyle repeated and moved incrementally forward with his words.

"Kyle," Stan whispered, staring up at the face above him, green eyes still shut in concentration. He reached a hand up to brush at Kyle's curls. "You okay?"

"It's amazing," Kyle breathed, opening his eyes to stare wide-eyed down at Stan. Stan chuckled. "It doesn't hurt?"

"There's always a little burn," Stan replied. Kyle nodded a bit shakily. "You ready?"

And they moved.

It was slow and hot and way too sweaty, and it took awhile to find a proper rhythm, but it was wonderful and perfect and Kyle, and Stan knew he was done for when Kyle moaned in pleasure, burying his face in Stan's neck and whispering his name.

"That... didn't last long at all," Kyle panted, Stan's come sticking their stomachs together.

Stan laughed, arms wrapping around Kyle's shoulders, and they rolled around a few times, laughing, until they were face to face.

"We'll get better," Stan eventually said.

"Yeah," Kyle smiled.

"I think my parents might kill me. I didn't clean up the house at all. Fuck, they really will kill me. Can I stay with you if they do?"

"How do you think you'll manage that if you're dead?" Kyle asked.

"I'll figure something out," Stan said and smiled down at the redhead. His boyfriend.

Kyle rolled his eyes, but grinned, turning away from Stan to look down the road.

"I haven't taken the bus in forever," he said quietly.

"We don't have to," Stan said. "If you don't want. But I had to get out of the house early to avoid my parents, and I usually take it anyway."

"It's fine," Kyle said. "Just feels a bit weird."

"Good weird?" Stan asked.

"Good weird," Kyle replied.

"Jesus Christ, are you fags seriously going to be stinking up the bus with your gay?" Cartman said, walking up to stand next to Kyle.

"Yeah, Cartman, we love to infect the world with our gay germs," Stan rolled his eyes.

"Obviously," Cartman said, hands snug in his letterman pockets. "You already got the Jew boy to convert."

"What about you, Cartman?" Kyle asked. "How come you're taking the bus? I thought you had yourself a fancy car to drive around in all the time."

"Well, it's in the shop now, isn't it?" Cartman sneered. "Can't drive a car when it's getting fixed."

"Sure, Cartman," Kyle smirked.

"What are you guys talking about?" Kenny asked, coming up behind Cartman, green hoodie covering his hair and chin.

"Stan's gay germs infecting Kyle," Cartman said.

"Really?" Kenny said. "I heard you weren't complaining so much when Bebe stuck her fingers up your ass."

"Hey!" Cartman barked.

"Oh my god, really?" Stan laughed, Kyle chuckling beside him.

"It was an experiment," Cartman enunciated slowly. "It doesn't mean I'm gay."

"Whatever you say, Cartman," Stan said, still laughing.

They settled into a comfortable silence after the laughter died down, just staring out ahead into South Park's snow.

"Ah, fuck this," Cartman said eventually. "I'll walk."

"The bus is almost here," Kyle said.

"Yeah, whatever," Cartman said, striding off.

"Eric!" Bebe called out when the bus came to a stop in front of them. She hopped off and ran after him, blonde hair waving behind her. "Where are you going?"

"Getting on?" Craig asked, also stepping off the bus, Tweek right behind him.

Stan glanced up at the bus, then back at Kyle.

"Fuck it," he said and fell into step beside Craig. Kyle followed him, grinning. "Coming, Kenny?"

"Nah, think I'm getting on," the blonde said, stepping up onto the vehicle. Stan saw Butters waving cheerily at him.

"'Kay," Stan said, nodding. "See you at school."

And they walked off together.